Maya Angelou tells her florist: ‘Oh, I love Filipinos.’

maya xmas 1

By Cristina DC Pastor

There was never a tangled Christmas tree light in the many years – since 1998 – that florist Dennis Josue had been decorating the Harlem home of Maya Angelou.

But one time was embarrassingly memorable. Dennis of Fantasia Floral Design on the Upper East Side, was called back to Angelou’s house. The Christmas tree had toppled over from the heavy ornaments he used to adorn her 15-foot fir.

“I rushed back the following day,” said Dennis recalling with a laugh that singular time when the poet, best-selling author, feminist, civil rights activist and literary immortal asked him to fix her tree. “She did not get angry. Dr. Angelou was a very nice lady, a very gentle woman.”

Dr. Angelou. That’s how Angelou would ask people who was not family or she was not intimate friends with, to address her. And that’s how Dennis paid her the ultimate respect.

Dennis met Angelou through a friend, Gary Warren, then a window display artist at Bloomingdale’s. He and Gary went to the same church.

Dennis Josue

Dennis Josue

One day, Gary asked Dennis if he would like to decorate a friend’s apartment for the holidays. That would signal the start of him doing Angelou’s Christmas décor year after year up until about three years ago when she began – perhaps for reasons of health — to stay longer in North Carolina even spending the holidays there. Angelou, 86, passed away May 28 in North Carolina.

She also had a townhouse down Harlem’s Malcolm X Boulevard, where, he believed, Angelou’s son Guy lives. Dennis and his assistant would decorate its three floors, two fireplaces, railways, doors, bedrooms and kitchen.

“She liked decorations that are whimsical and playful because she liked having family and grandchildren over for Christmas,” he told The FilAm.

And Dennis was only too happy to oblige. One time, he adorned the kitchen fireplace to look like a gingerbread house using real gingerbread confections. The family gathered around the fireplace enjoying bites from the baked decor.

He recalled, too, how in the Christmas after September 11, 2001 Angelou requested a red-white-and-blue color theme. “We did her a patriotic Christmas. The tree was all white, including all the ornaments.”

She loved the color white. Dennis recalled scattering white amaryllis plants around the house that year. Blue is another favorite for its calming quality.

Dennis said Angelou was not always around while he worked, but she would give Gary instructions on what she would like her Christmas theme to be. One time, actress Cicely Tyson came to visit, and so Dennis avoided working in the kitchen where Angelou entertained her.

He recalled, in one of their brief pleasantries, mentioning that he is Filipino, from the Philippines. Her face lit up, saying “Oh, I love Filipinos,” enough to make Dennis feel even more enamored of this lovely, gentle African American artist.

When he learned of her passing, Dennis turned to Facebook to join in the national mourning:“Dr. Angelou, you’re in my thoughts and prayers. I remember the happy times I had decorating your house.”

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