March 1, 2015 @ 05:50 pm by Jacqui Lewis
My grandmother’s birthday was yesterday. She would be 102. When I was a little girl, I thought there was a river running around her one-story white clapboard house on the hill, with black trimmed awnings reaching toward the sky. I grew to understand that there was no river; it was a ditch for runoff. And the hill was just a little high ground to avoid flooding.
Oh, how I loved her house. I loved the fact that the door was almost always open. I loved looking into the screen door at the living room, the mesh making it look misty and magical. I loved the colorful woven rugs on the floor, the dark mahogany table in front of the soft couch and love seat covered in blue. I loved the well-dusted miniatures kept high on shelves and in the étagère. I loved the sunny yellow kitchen and the rich smells that refused to leave. Bacon and greens and ham and sweet potato pie and pot roast and fried chicken and freshly baked corn bread swirled, hypnotizing me.
I loved the white crocheted bedspreads in the two bedrooms and the white doilies on the tabletops and the smell of Lemon Pledge and Pine-Sol that signaled her fastidious attention to clean. I loved the pink fluffy rugs in the bathroom and the smell of talcum powder and Ivory soap and the neatly folded don’t-touch-me towel hanging on the rack.
I loved her. Ma’ Dear. Mommy’s mommy. Born February 24, 1913. Stout, red-boned—meaning reddish-brown like that clay-tinged dirt surrounding the house sprouting crabgrass. I loved her stunning smile, wide and open and white despite her chewing-tobacco habit. I loved the way her kisses were sweet like sugar, sugar for which she asked in a lovely Mississippi Delta drawl. “Come here gal, and give me some sugah; I love you,” and the way she smelled like cinnamon and lavender. I loved her laugh, a laugh that broke my heart wide open, and I loved her eyes and the way they were shaped like almonds. Mommy has those eyes, and the same cheekbones, and the same skin that seems never to wrinkle stretched tautly across them.
Though she was the number 5 child, she took care of 14 brothers, and her own often-pregnant mother. She raised three children—Emma, my mom, the middle child; Verline, Mommy’s baby sister; and Gus, the oldest brother. She raised them after their father skipped out and moved north to another town and started another family. She raised them sharecropping, chopping cotton, and working as a nurse’s aide at the hospital. She raised them on crowder peas and pole beans and cabbage and pigs raised on her little plot of land. She raised them with love thick as molasses, with a switch when needed, and with the Bible as her guide. She raised them in church, sent them to the only school they could attend—the colored one—and held them in the big love of her bosom. She raised them to love each other. Gus has passed. Emma and Verline talk every day on the phone. Every day.
Louella Edwards. Li’l Sis. Mama. Ma’ Dear—my grandmother. Strong. Courageous. Faithful. Matriarch. A Christian whose favorite verse was, “Pray for your enemies.” Friend. I inherited her hats when she died. Big, beautiful, snazzy hats with bows and veils. A particular woman with hats and gloves and a story. Her story.
How did a particular woman’s history shape your story? This month at Middle Church, we will celebrate the women in our lives, how they raised us and what they taught us, about faith and courage. I hope you will share your powerful women’s stories with each other.
About This Blog
Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.