The Heart Speaks: Lessons from my Grandmothers

December 10, 2008 at 12:39 am Leave a comment


By In Our Hearts, 2008

In a memory, my family is enjoying my son’s Christmas program at school. The theme of the program was “Christmas Around the World”. The program began with the children circling the room, waving flags that represent various countries. I made cornbread for the potluck—using a recipe that had remained in my family for generations. The children celebrated by dressing in costumes that represent their heritage. My son was dressed as a farmer. He wore a straw hat, overalls and a plaid shirt with a boll of cotton in the front pocket. Designing the costume became a time to reflect on family stories, passed down through generations of women.

I closed my eyes to imagine the life of Momma Judge, the earliest ancestor I had traced in my family. Momma Judge was the daughter of slaves, who were bought at auction in Virginia, then shipped to a plantation in rural Alabama. The first and last impression in the life of Momma Judge was of brittle stalks of cotton, the red earth staining the hem of her skirt. Amid the familiar line of her family, she hummed spirituals as she stooped over the prickly bolls. She’d live in a cabin heated by a pot-bellied stove with rags stuffed in the cracks to keep out the cold. Meals cooked over that stove would become recipes passed between generations of women, sharing a connection in the food that brought our family together at mealtime.

I thought of Big Momma, the granddaughter of Momma Judge. Shortly after Big Momma gave birth to my grandpa, she returned to the same fields her ancestors worked, her baby snug in a burlap sack slung at the hip. Big Momma had her first child, Grandpa Bud, when still young and raised him alone after her husband disappeared. Disappearance was a way of life back then. The threats of violence against Blacks, the migratory seasons of sharecropping, the poverty and debt perpetuated by cropping and the hope for something better fluctuated between leaving and coming back–or not being seen again. Big Momma raised six children on her own. She saved up for a house in the city and managed to get a job out of the fields. Faith and determination saw her through.

My thoughts turn to Grandma Dee, the wife of Grandpa Bud. She was a beautiful woman who was devoted to her family. Grandma Dee met Grandpa Bud at a juke joint in the hollows of Bibb County. Together, my grandparents made a dazzling couple; twirling to a rhythm only they shared. Grandpa Bud was a handsome man with a honey colored complexion and wavy hair. He was quiet, and when he spoke he was known to be nobody to fool with. My grandparents were passionately in love, even when they fought there was a spark between them. At my age Grandma Dee would have three children and was preparing to move up North, where Grandpa Bud landed a good job. She was proud to give her children a better life, where they wouldn’t have to work the fields and could go to school. The lives of my grandparents would end in tragedy; they died before I was born.

When I remember stories of my ancestry, I am grateful to the grandmothers whose determination and faith provide a well of strength to draw from. My grandmothers were born into a world where their bodies were worth only a few coins. They gave birth to children whose lives were limited by slavery and racism. My grandmothers were denied an education; they knew only a life in the fields. In deprivation, they gave birth to new life—they prayed until the church shook, they fought for change even if it meant they had to do a man’s work or move to a distant city, and they reminded their children that they are loved, precious and worth so much more. In hardship my grandmothers not only persisted but also thrived. One day I will stand among my grandmothers, and my children will know that I never stopped fighting to provide something better for them, that I never stopped loving them.

I am blessed to be a daughter of a lineage of such intelligent, determined and spiritual women. Women whose ability to love was not diminished by loss. Women who infused their faith, creativity and love into the little they had to create a better future for their children. Women of deep faith in God. Women, who, despite all challenges, impressed a sense of hope that was passed down to the next generations, to me.

Entry filed under: Crazy Quilt: Writings & Reflections, Misc: The Family Quilt. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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