CYBILL UNION’s first interview took place in the living room of a Chicago high-rise apartment on Monday, December 15. Sitting next to me on her sofa, a new friend sipped at a hot mug of tea while I sat by, recorder in my right hand, printed questions lying to my left on the cushion. She was battling a scratchy throat that day, a remnant of a bad cold that seems to be being passed from Chicagoan to Chicagoan this Christmas season.
The interview’s progression was organic, effortlessly moving from one conversation to the next. Once she shared the background with her loved one and we found ourselves in the throes of her fond memories and impressions, there were tales of their Christmas-time engagement and the other, valuable lessons that her beloved left behind before succumbing to a third bout with breast cancer on March 19, 2014.
Twenty-four minutes into the discussion, an almost inexplicable moment occurred while she spoke of a difficult encounter they experienced as an inter-racial couple. Finishing the detail on a moment when she felt provoked to call a hotel employee on how he singled her black wife out as she and her white friends were coming in from a day at the beach, a music box flipped in without anyone nearby. Playing “Toyland,” it stopped each of us, although we both recognized its significance. Pausing, we each laughed, sensing the nearness of my friend’s deceased wife.
“Thank you, Vernita,” she smiled as we broke away from the discussion.
As a coda, the music box belonged to her wife. It rests on a table that is behind the sofa on which we sat, surrounded by other items for which Vernita had affection.