The big smile on my face is in anticipation of a fun-filled day at our Summer Family and Friend Gathering, which is held every July in Milwaukee at our youngest daughter’s home. Separated by thousands of miles, I look forward to this gathering to reconnect and create new memories with my Midwest family and friends.
As soon as we arrive the first game begins. Everyone is given a strand of beads with instructions not to cross their legs or arms for the entire day. When you see someone with a crossed leg or arm, you can take their beads. I am a leg and arm crosser and someone always takes my beads within 10-15 minutes. At the end of the day, Damien had the most beads won the prize.
The teenagers practicing to play a basketball game scheduled for later in the day.
Before the golfers arrive to takeover the putting range, this little guy asked his mom, “How do you play this game”?
The younger children waiting for the ready, set go with hopes of winning the Fastest Runner Prize.
One of the most popular games of the day is the three-legged race, enjoyed by the younger children, teenagers and adults.
Twister is a game that my adult grands played and it still is a favorite with the younger kids.
We also recognized newlyweds, Tiyawn and Leslie Walker. They tied the knot on June 16th.
I couldn’t end this post without a HUGE THANK YOU to my BEST FRIEND FOREVER and CO-GRANDMOTHER, CEBBY. Knowing how much I rely on photos to remind me of times spent with friends and family throughout the year, she captured and surprised me with some of these photos and many, many more.
In the summer, I look forward to taking a break from Florida’s hot weather to visit family and friends in Wisconsin. This year, Hubby and I extended our vacation from four to ten days. I needed the extra time to check off two items on my Bucket List.
Visit Mama’s Gravesite in Chicago
I set aside one full day and traveled to Chicago about 90 miles from Milwaukee to visit Mama’s gravesite. In two earlier posts, I shared:
I lived in Madison, Wisconsin for more than thirty years. A solo, 2-day mini vacation, without Hubby, freed up space for me to: (1) spend quality time with my “girlfriend” family; and, (2) re-visit several of my favorite places.
I spent many quiet afternoons and evenings at a local park looking out over LakeMonona. To recapture this experience, I booked a room for two nights at the Hilton-Monona TerraceHotel with a window view of Lake Monona.
Because I wanted to spend time with as many family members as possible, I invited my grand-nieces and step great-granddaughters for a two-night sleepover at the hotel. Sleepless in Madison is my best description of what it’s like to share a room with three teenagers and a nine-year-old; but, I enjoyed every minute with my girls.
The next day, I, along with my girls, meandered through one of my favorite places in Madison, Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
I couldn’t stop the camera from clicking and capturing memories of a beautiful afternoon spent in the presence of nature and family.
In the evening, I went to dinner at one of my favorite eating places, Paisan’s Restaurant. It was my first visit in twenty-six years and I enjoyed a girlfriends night out of lively conversation and sharing memories with thirteen of my favorite friends and family members. The highlight of the evening was meeting my newest family member, Miss Jaelah. She traveled from arm to arm throughout the evening.
The 2-day solo, mini-vacation in Madison, Wisconsin was awesome; and I am happy to have checked of two items on my Bucket List.
When we laid Mama to rest in 1967, I walked away from her gravesite and never returned. The grave was a reminder of suffering and dying; and I wanted to hold on to memories of Mama being healthy and alive. The years passed and the memories of suffering and dying faded.
Last year, I decided it was time to return to Mama’s gravesite; and, I shared why in a post on October 21 2016, “Lost Memories of Mama.
On July 5, 2016, along with hubby, son and two cousins, I visited Mama’s grave for the first time since her burial more than forty-eight years ago.
I planned for a prayer and viewing of the purchased headstone. What a surprise to learn that my sister/cousin, Rev. Dr. Gwendolyn Eloby Fleming had written an Unveiling of the Headstone Program. She was able to do this without my input. We were the daughters of two sisters, raised together as sisters, and she knew my Mama’s life story.
After sharing Words of Commemoration and leading us in reciting the 23rd Psalm, my sister/cousin read the written Statement of Purpose:
“We now fondly dedicate this headstone to the loving and blessed memory of Onetha Outlaw Burks realizing that her remains lie not only in this plot of ground but in every heart her life did touch.
We are grateful for the years we were privileged to share with her — years when she brought us so many pleasures and taught us so very much by example. Years in which she gave her best and established the foundation upon which her sisters, brothers, child, grandchildren, son-in-law, family and friends stand.
As an African people, we believe that three generations are always present — the past, present and future. Our ancestors never leave us. Onetha lives on even though her physical body is not in our midst. We know that she will never leave our hearts and spirits where she continues to bless us and future generations forever.
Her spirit is with us today!”
For years, I carried a heavy burden without realizing the heaviness. I have released the guilt of staying away from Mama’s gravesite for so many years. I have recaptured the lost memories. I mourn in peace rather than fear. I will continue, for the remainder of my life, to honor Mama in death as I did during her lifetime.
Thanks to Hubby, children, grands, and cousins, for your love and support throughout this journey.
At an early age, God gifted me with two beautiful women, Aunt LD and Aunt Baby Ruth. My Aunt LD was married to my Great, Grand Uncle Buddy; and, her sister, Aunt Baby Ruth lived with them on the second floor at the House on Wentworth Avenue. I lived with Mama in the attic apartment
Because we didn’t share the same bloodline, legally, we were not related. Love, which is more powerful, made us family and kept us together from the mid-1940s until they passed in the mid-1970s.
On Saturday evenings the aunts would prepare Sunday dinner. I believe it was an enjoyable meal for them to cook because:
working as live-in domestics, what they cooked and how they cooked was controlled by the people who employed them;.
living in the House on Wentworth Avenue, they were empowered to cook what they wanted and how they wanted for their family and friends.
Aunt LD and Aunt Baby Ruth were excellent cooks. They created traditional soulful southern dishes, which were familiar to me. Occasionally, introducing us to some of the dishes they cooked at work.
I loved to watch them cook, especially the desserts. They always baked several cakes and/or pies. After patiently waiting for them to finish, they gave me the empty mixing bowl and spoon. Eating the leftover cake batter was my Saturday night snack.
On these Saturday nights, the youngest one in the room, I was introduced to family bonding, sister to sister love, and two women working together toward a common goal — placing a soulful meal on the Sunday table for loved ones to share at the House on Wentworth Avenue.
In my next post, I will share even more memories of my maternal family.
January 12, 2013, after weeks of struggling to set up this blog website, I published the first post, “My Final Season: How I Choose to Live It.”
Today, I began this post with what I wrote three years ago:
“As a 70-year-old, I faced reality. Approaching my final season, it’s time to make a choice. My final season, as defined by ME, is the time to focus on ME. My inner voice spoke to ME. I listened. God wants to direct me down a new path. A new journey. A new venture. A time to explore and discover ME. In this final season of life, I plan to open new doors.”
Beginning this blog opened my space up to new people, places and things. I have gone far beyond my own expectations in this discovery of ME.
Blogging took ME down a path to connect with other bloggers who, many without knowing, inspired ME to expand my world. With confidence, I went outside of my comfort zone, explored and discovered:
Mindfulness – Adult Coloring Books for Stress Relief
Ancestry Research – Maternal Family History
I also want to express gratitude to those bloggers who shared information and thoughts about:
random acts of kindness;
expressions of gratitude and thankfulness;
spiritual uplifting; and
Motivated by these bloggers, I expanded and/or incorporated healthy practices into my lifestyle. This has improved the overall quality of my life; and, I am on a path to build a healthy mind, body and spirit.
As I continue down this journey to define ME, expressing gratitude for the doors that have opened and the new doors to open.
As I continue to uncover New Information about my maternal family history, New Questions arise.
A recent Ancestry.com query by my paternal niece revealed this unknown information about my maternal great-grandmother, Minerva. She was born about 1888, in Mississippi, and was one of 13 children, seven brothers and six sisters. Her father, Gilbert, was 22 and her mother, Mary, was 13.
Minerva had one child, a daughter named Minnie, born in 1905.
I know about five sisters, Roxy, Sally, Willie, Minerva, and Josie. What happened to the sixth sister?
I know about three brothers, Thomas, Robert and Johnny. What happened to the other four brothers?
When and where did Gilbert and Mary get married?
When and where were Gilbert and Mary born?
When and where did Gilbert and Mary die?
When and where were the siblings born?
When and where did the siblings die?
The name of my grandmother, Minnie’s, father.
Answers to these questions will provide New Information, leading to New Questions and my maternal family search to “know from whence we came” will continue.
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:
Mother who worked a full-time job, six days a week; and a
Grandmother and Great-Grandmother who died before I was born.
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 —
Disliked taking the daily dose of caster oil after lunch. Even though she followed this up with one whole marshmallow, it didn’t erase the awful taste.
Feared the dead bodies that regularly entered and exited the funeral home on the first floor and the embalming center in the basement. It was not unusual to see a body laid out in an open casket for viewing in the entryway leading to the apartments upstairs.
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.
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 wassharecropping.
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.”
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:
dying slowly and painfully; and
I didn’t see any value in expressing gratitude for the:
early stage 1 breast cancer diagnosis;
network of supportive family and friends; as well as
access to quality health care and treatment.
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:
listen, empathize, and support each other; as well as
plan activities and events to promote breast cancer awareness in the African-American community.
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:
Breast Cancer, which entered my life in 2008, for it happened in my Past, nor
Death, which will happen, but it is in my Future.
And, I am grateful for making the Choice to let go of Hopelessness and Live in the Present Moment.