Several weeks ago, I embarked on a journey to create an identity for those maternal family members who came before me.
Seekers Dungeon Prompt, “Let’s Talk About Family,” opened up a new door to share my memories.
I grew up surrounded by a large group of maternal aunts and uncles who nurtured and cared for me in their own special way.
All of my aunts filled in the space vacated by a:
Aunt Roxy, one of my great-grand aunts, cared for me during the day until I was about 12-years-old. She and her husband, Uncle RV, were childless. They lived on the third floor of a Victorian Style building on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Aunt Roxy and Uncle RV used the front living room as their bedroom. Her two sisters, Aunt Willie and Aunt Sally, stayed in the other two bedrooms. They were special, too, and I will share memories of them in future posts.
There were two common areas in the apartment — a kitchen and a small open space off the stairwell which housed two comfortable chairs and cabinet style-radio that sat on the floor.
Aunt Roxy and Uncle RV also had a small 12″, black and white television in their bedroom where everyone gathered to watch their favorite shows.
On Saturdays, the aunts came together in the kitchen to prepare the weekly, after church, Sunday dinner. They always seemed to cook enough to feed anyone who came by. The two tables in the large kitchen rarely had an empty seat on Sunday.
I had my play and napping place in Aunt Roxy’s bedroom — a separated corner area of the room, surrounded by windows where I spent many hours playing, dreaming and pretending. As an only child, I didn’t have a problem entertaining myself.
Though, I have fond memories of Aunt Roxy and the many hours I spent under her care, I —
Because I cannot recall when Aunt Roxy died or her married name, I will search for this information. You see, there is no one left who remembers.
My mother would have celebrated her 91st birthday on Saturday, October 17th. Sadly, she celebrated her last birthday on October 17, 1967. Two months later, following a lengthy illness, she passed away at the young age of forty-four. Even though its been almost forty-eight years since her death, my mourning continues.
In 1967, I walked away from my mother’s burial site and never returned. The years passed, memories faded and I forgot the:
My memories of these things were deeply buried and forgotten. Approximately thirty years after my mother’s death, one returned when I attended my maternal aunt’s funeral. Sitting next to my husband, I remarked, “This is my first time in the new church.” He reminded me that my mother’s funeral had been held there.
Searching for Lost Memories
On Monday, October 19, I began the search to recapture the lost memories of Mama’s death.
First, I went to the county’s online genealogy records where you can get access to records, by last name, of people who died in the county more than twenty years ago. While I couldn’t find mama’s name, my father’s death was listed as June 30, 1978. In the next week or so, I plan to followup with the county and found out why her name is not showing up in their genealogy records.
Having hit a brick wall, I telephoned the church and told my story to the woman who answered the phone:
“My mama died in 1967 and I was so traumatized by her death that I blocked everything from my memory. I am now looking for closure and trying to find out the date of her death and where she was buried.”
She said the church didn’t start keeping records until the 1970s. However, this kind woman gave me the name of three cemeteries that likely would have handled a burial from the church during the 1960s.
I telephoned the first cemetery and repeated my story to the woman who answered the phone. She listened and, in an understanding and caring voice, said, “give me a few minutes to check.” Within five minutes she came back on the line saying:
“Your mother was buried on December 23, 1967. She is buried in Section K, Lot #4 and Grave #10.
When I asked if a headstone was on the grave, she didn’t know. But, offered to have a groundskeeper check and said she would get back to me before the end of the day.
Late afternoon, she called and reported that there was no headstone. I asked if she could recommend where one could be purchased. She said, “right here at the cemetery and I can email you the information.”
The Search is Over
To honor and remember my mother, in death, I plan to:
For the remaining days of my life, I choose to share memories of mama, through my voice and written words, so that my children, grandchildren and future generations know from “whence they came.” (James Baldwin)
I lost memories of my mama’s death, but I cherished and retained the memories of our life together.
I want to create an identity for those family members that came before me. For my family history has been lost, misplaced and forgotten. I will begin by searching for information, asking questions, and recalling memories.
When information is found, I will write. When I recall memories, I will write. When I get answers, I will write.
I want to leave written words for my children, grandchildren, and future generations so that they, “know from whence they came.”
So, I begin this journey with fond memories of my maternal great-grandparents.
George and Miss Mattie
During my childhood, I assumed George and Miss Mattie were only good friends. After all, they worked on the same plantation and lived in close proximity to each other.
As the plantation owner’s family cook, Miss Mattie, lived in the big house with the plantation owner’s family. I recall a large white house surrounded by huge shrubs, sitting on lush green lawns, with peacocks walking around spreading their colorful wings.
George worked as the driver who supervised the sharecroppers working in the plantation fields. Therefore, his house was a bit larger, painted a bright red and better maintained than the sharecropper homes on the plantation. Sitting directly behind the big house, it shared the big house’s lush green lawns, huge shrubs and the peacocks even wandered by George’s front porch spreading their colorful wings.
Growing up, I knew George was the driver on the plantation. Unlike the drivers described during slavery, the sharecroppers on the plantation respected and trusted George.
Even though slavery ended in 1865, its remnants remained in the south and its replacement was sharecropping.
I am not sure when George or Miss Mattie began working on this plantation located in the rural Mississippi Delta. For certain, George worked as the driver throughout my mother’s childhood as well as mine.
Miss Mattie and George married sometime around the mid-1950s and were together until George passed away in 1971. Miss Mattie died several years later.
Though. I refer to George and Miss Mattie as great-grandparents, we shared no bloodline.
George the Single Parent
My mother rarely talked about her past. But, she did tell me how George became my great-grandfather He married my great-grandmother, Minerva, around the late 1930s. She was raising four grandchildren after the death of her daughter and only child, Minnie.
Several years later, when Minerva, died four of her sisters offered to take one child each. George rejected their offer. He did not want to see them separated.
George was very protective of the children. He stressed getting an education and their moving up north for a better life. When other children on the plantation went to work in the fields, my mother and her siblings went to school. When the two girls were ready for high school, he sent them both off to boarding schools. I remember mama saying, “We wanted to go to the field with the other children, but George wouldn’t allow it.”
The two boys were with him until they enlisted in the Navy during World War II and the two girls left when they married. All eventually moved north as George wanted.
I have many, many memories to share of times spent with this compassionate, loving, and generous man as I continue down this path of discovering “from whence I came.”
After seeing a television advertising, I decided two days ago to visit an art exhibit at one of the local malls. The CANstructure Orlando Exhibit is a design and build competition, which exhibits in more than 150 cities around the world. According to their website, “it’s mission is “to feed and inspire the world — one day at a time.” When the exhibit ends, all food is donated to the local Second Harvest Food Bank.
It is said that you are never to old to learn something new. Two days ago, I learned about using full cans of food to create artistic CANsculptures. Of course, I took photos to share.
In 2008, several months after my 65th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer.
Initially, I couldn’t move past the negative and fearful thoughts about:
I didn’t see any value in expressing gratitude for the:
Four months after the diagnosis, I learned about a local breast cancer support group and connected with a caring group of African-American women. Every month, we came together to:
Five years ago, I retired and moved to Florida. Physically, 2,000 miles separate me from my breast cancer sisters. Emotionally and spiritually, I stay connected to Sisters4Cure. Through them, I opened up space to receive and accept that living life to the fullest is possible even with breast cancer.
Today, I neither fear:
And, I am grateful for making the Choice to let go of Hopelessness and Live in the Present Moment.
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