Dorian Webb

dorian webb

One history, of many...

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My parents are moving to the neighborhood! Since my husband and I first moved to Montclair, they have been enamored this quiet little enclave high in the hills of Oakland. My mom, despite having grown up in coal mining territory- Beckley, West Virginia, was at first terrified of the steep, guardrail-free drive required to arrive at our house. Not at all mollified by the gorgeous vistas of the bay, or the sparkling bridges beyond, she averted her eyes, her white knuckles grasping the back of my headrest for dear life. My dad, comfortable in most any situation, was more sanguine, happily commenting on the new environment as we snaked higher and higher into the clouds, asking a slew of pertinent questions (“So how many people live in Oakland?” What is the elevation?”) that we were ill equipped to answer.

I remember that first visit as if it were yesterday. They had come to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with us and our friends. We planned a party for about 50 of our nearest and dearest, a group that also included my dad’s best friend from childhood, whom we hadn’t yet met although he lived in Oakland, and a surprise visit from my eldest cousin who lives in Indianapolis, my dad’s hometown.

For most families, a celebration of this milestone would have been commonplace. For ours, it was extraordinary. While the institution of marriage is revered, the ceremony around it has never been all that important to any of us.  My parents, my mother’s sister, and my grandparents before them, all were married in a low key fashion at a local courthouse by the justice of the peace.(“We JP'ed it” my aunt says of the day of her union with my uncle, also 50+ years ago) I’m not sure if any photos exist of these  . I have never seen them.  

When my husband and I were planning our nuptials, he asked/ urged me to invite my parents to “our big day”. Caught up in the moment, and buoyed by his enthusiasm, I did. I regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth.  “Why?” my mother asked me in response to my invitation. I stumbled a bit at the answer, myself, “We thought you and dad might like to be a part of our special day, and, um would like to witness us…” My words drifted off over the phone lines connecting me to the house where I grew up, to the east coast where I knew my mom was cradling the phone to her ear, perched on her favorite couch in the artwork lined family room. Never short of words, she interjected, “Look, Dorian, when your father and I got married many years ago, we paid an inebriated man $20 to be our witness. Are kids not doing that nowadays?”

That was eight years ago, when my father was still able pick out suits and ties and dress himself. Now, on warm summer days, my mom will tuck him into T-shirt we gifted him from a local company that proudly proclaims Oakland's population and elevation under the outlines of a rooted oak tree, and will gently remind him that Oakland is where my husband and I live.

So finally they will return to the Bay Area. Not to Montclair exactly, “About an hour away. That is close enough. We need our privacy.” as my mom succinctly put it. And I couldn’t be happier.

A Prosperous New Year

African American, Musingsdorian webb

Expectations are high. Intentions filled with optimism have been set, and thanks to a self-imposed period of cocooning at home after Christmas, they are matched by a renewed energy level that is almost visible. Despite a track record of spotty resolution execution: 1.2 lbs. lost instead of twenty; three bestselling documentaries purchased, dutifully attempted and set aside (while any trashy novel captivates me like a shiny, irresistible object), I remain resolutely optimistic. This will be THE year. 

And it will be, for the things that matter. My life will be filled with abundance on each of its 365 days. I happily take this fact for granted, knowing that I have done my part. On January 1, 2019, I, along with countless African Americans, ensure a successful year by connecting to our ancestors and partaking in our holy trinity: black-eyed peas, pork and greens.

Black-eyed peas are said to bring luck. Whether these legumes derive their power from the belief that they were all that slaves had to eat to celebrate on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, or from the same sentiment that fostered the centuries-old tradition of celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) with their consumption, black-eyed peas on the first day of the year are a must.

Pork connotes prosperity. Pork, and its “lesser” cuts – pig’s feet, ham hocks, chitterlings – are staples of the traditional African American diet. On New Year’s Day, they are symbols of abundance and progress, similar to that of roast pork and pork dumplings in other cultures. The idea of a pig signifying forward thinking due to its inability to turn its head without turning its entire body, is one that makes me smile.

Greens attract green. Perhaps the most literal of all the holiday’s iconography are leafy, late-season greens. The inclusion of greens on the table (cabbage in many cultures), portends easy access to wealth in the new year. If, unfortunately, you missed the lucky window for 2019, worry not. Even if they may no longer guarantee $1,000 earned with each mouthful eaten, greens are a wonderful treat, no matter when they are enjoyed.


Dorian’s Greens

3 bunches of kale or other greens

Quart (32 oz) box of unsalted chicken stock

Small yellow onion, diced

½ cup brown sugar

⅛ cup white vinegar

Red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

A 1” x 2” strip of fatback (optional)* or a dash of olive oil

Sauvignon blanc or any white wine you have on hand (optional)

Heat half the chicken stock in a large pot. Boil fatback in water until tender – approximately 5 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into small pieces. Rinse greens well. Separate leaves from tough center spine and cut into small pieces with kitchen scissors. Add to boiling stock. Add onion, brown sugar, vinegar and fatback. If not using fatback, add a dash of olive oil. Sprinkle red pepper over pot. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir. Greens will cook down considerably. Add half of the remaining chicken stock. Continue to cook, adding stock as necessary. If you run out of stock, add wine. Proportions should be greens with some liquid (pot liquor, the best part!) not a soup. Taste, adding salt, pepper and adjusting seasonings to taste. Greens are done when they are easily chewable, about 20 -30 minutes.

*Since fatback is not always readily available, I ask the butcher to put it aside for me a few days before I need it. It is doubtful that you will be able to find a piece that small. Fatback lasts for 3-6 months in the freezer when well wrapped.