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There's a line in the movie Spanglish in which the lead character -- a Mexican immigrant who works as a servant for a suburban white family -- asks her young daughter if what she wants out of life is to become something so much different than her mother. That's the sum total of my thoughts after attending my cousin's memorial service yesterday.

My grandmother was born in rural East Texas in 1911. Her father was a preacher, and I never knew what her mother did. They owned a peanut farm -- which was almost unheard of for Black people -- and had 12 children. The two oldest children died before the other ten were born, and everything was cool. Unfortunately, the good times didn't last, and by the time my grandmother was 13, both of her parents were dead. The kids got separated, and Granny and Aunt Mabel ended up being raised by her father's sister and her husband.

I'm not really sure what kind of conditions she dealt with as far as poverty and stuff, but I know that there weren't many opportunities for Black people -- especially in the Jim Crow South. The most a woman could hope for is to get married and have children. Granny did that at the tender age of 22. The year was 1933.

Granny and her husband, my grandfather, Frank, moved to a larger city. They became the parents of five children -- Sonny, James, Betty, Don, and my mother, Pee Wee. Unfortunately, Frank died when my mother was three. Here was my grandmother, in 1952, with four children at home, no husband, and no job. She got Social Security, but it wasn't enough. Eventually, she started sewing for money, and things were pretty good until she had her stroke. In all her life, she never ventured far from Texas.

While Granny's other four children stayed in close contact, Uncle James did not. He moved to California after he graduated from high school and never looked back. He got married, had four children, and made a life on the West Coast. Granny heard from him a few times a year, and he didn't bring his family around much. When Granny died, none of his children thought enough of her to make the funeral.

Yesterday, I went to a memorial service to honor Uncle James' oldest son, Philip. Even though I didn't know him well, I went because someone has to try to bridge this crazy gap in our family. It was nice because instead of mourning his death, they celebrated his life. His friends, fellow pastors, and family members all stood up to talk about how wonderful a husband, father, son, brother, mentor and friend he was. If only half of everything they said was true, I really missed out on knowing a great man.

After the service, I sat there with this room full of strangers who obviously had love for each other, and wondered why I was there. I hadn't seen my cousins since I was eight, and they didn't even recognize me. Furthermore, everyone there kept referring to me as Pee Wee's daughter. The way they said it let me know that we've probably been discussed in less-than-flattering terms. At one point, one of my cousins told his wife that his father's family was, quote, "difficult." I'm sure that's how they see us, and it made me sad.

What I realize is that my uncle wanted to make a better life for his family than the one he'd had. While I applaud that noble endeavor, it's a shame he felt that he had to cut himself off from his roots to do so. Now we're all a bunch of disjointed branches from the same tree, and I don't like it. I want my family to be close, and I hope that I made a step in the right direction yesterday.

Comments

Angie-Nuvision said…
Good post. Heart felt and very descriptive. Perhaps you should think about writing a family narrative. Your grandmother's story is interesting. One day, you and your brother's children will be glad for it. It may even make your mom proud.
Anonymous said…
Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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