Two weeks ago, a very special lady crossed over into eternity and her name was Rosemary. She was my first cousin and she was loved by many. As a child, she was the most glamorous woman in the world to me and she brought excitement with her presence whenever she showed up.
She was this blazing comet who came to earth to fill us with joy and laughter, brimming over with passion and fire. Now her job is done and while here, she lived her life with gusto and pizazz. It’s going to take a long, long time for me to deal with the reality that she is no longer amongst us in the human form but some people are unique like that, their essence so powerful yet at the same time, so fragile. Those who loved her should be grateful that we had her at all. Rest In Power Rosemary. You was the big sister I never had and I will always love you.
On this day of dead, November 1, 2022, I would like to honor my ancestors. Without their blood, I wouldn’t exist. Without their courage, I would be nothing. And as long as I am alive, I will speak their names. They will never go unfed and not remembered. I will nourish them, savor their love and my love for them and continue to tell their stories until I join them.
I majored in sociology in college because it made sense after reading the first paragraph of the textbook I had been assigned. I had been a sociologist my entire life but didn’t know it.
When I was a little girl, I used to go to work with my mother during summer vacations and we would take public transportation. I always noticed that everyone would go through the same exact turnstile when we got to the train station, although it would be several that would be empty. That never made any sense to me because why stand in line when it was another turnstile available? Ugh humans but despite of their flaws, humanity is utterly fascinating to me.
Due to sociology, the social media, and aging, unfortunately I’m noticing that people are pathologically unhappy and it makes me sad. Because life is so short and it’s precious. Everyday you wake up is a blessing and a new opportunity to start over again. Who wants to wake up mad and miserable all the time? Not me.
For this new year, I’m hoping that everyone claims their right to happiness and joy. I would have thought that living through a pandemic would have awakened some people but it hasn’t. Be happy and love the people in your life. Love them with all your heart and soul. Because at times, life can be rough as hell and you never know when the grim reaper will be knocking on your door. Reclaim your life from misery and have a grand old life.
In the Black community, there are women who aren’t mothers because technically they didn’t give birth to the children they mothered but are revered because of the guidance, wisdom, and unconditional love that they bestowed upon generations of Black children. This is my tribute to those women. My ladies in particular whom I loved with all my heart and soul.
The lady in the picture above is my maternal grandmother. She was born in Alabama in 1900 and she became an ancestor in 1984. Although I only had her in my life for a short time , she was one of my greatest influences.
She was my babysitter from ages 2 until I was 8 years old when she moved out the state to live with one of her daughters. She was the one who taught me how to read and write, my colors and all that good stuff. So when I learned earlier this year that she only had a second grade education, I was beyond shocked. Because to me, she was a genius and she played a major part in my cognitive development as a child. She was also a great griot and told me slave folktales about skeletons who spoke and and horses who scolded naughty children. She was loved and revered by all who knew her and was considered the backbone of the family.
The lady above is my Aunt Mary. She was born in 1933 and became an ancestor in 1982. Her and my mother was only a year apart so they were very close and as result of their closeness, I spent a lot of time with her. She was a Scorpio like me and we got along like cake and ice cream. When she died from ovarian cancer, I was so shellshocked by her death, I couldn’t cry and didn’t cry until a few years later. She was a gem, a feisty woman of fire who is still missed and I wished she had the opportunity to meet my children.
My Aunt Rosie is in the picture above and she was an integral part of my life. If I’m not mistaken, she was born in 1922 and she became an ancestor in 1995. I spent a lot of time with her as a child and I loved her dearly. When I wanted to get my hair done and needed some money, she gave it to me with a little fussing but she gave it to me. With love.
I would go over to her house to pick it up and she would feed me, tell me tales of growing up into young womanhood and when it was time for me to leave, she would put the money in a handkerchief and pin it in my bra. I used to have a picture of myself when I was about 6 months old and I was sitting between Aunt Rosie and Aunt Mary and they were looking at me with such love and joy. I’m tearing up now thinking about it.
And the lady above with the thick juicy thighs is my cousin Cleo and she was a combination of cousin, big sister, aunt, and towards the end of her life, a mother figure to me. She was born in 1942 and she crossed over into glory in 2018.
When I was a little girl, I would follow her everywhere because wherevershe was, it was good times. My mother was a working woman and couldn’t take me places at times due to her work schedule so Cleo would take me and the rest of the cousins to museums, zoos, the beach, movies everywhere during hot summers in Chicago.
When I gave birth to my two eldest children, she was the one who picked me up from the hospital. She was always there for me with a kind word, a hug and most importantly, love. When I was a young adult and would be hanging out in the old neighborhood she still lived in, when it got too late for public transportation, she would let me spend the night. She didn’t have to be bothered with me but she chose to. My goodness when I think about the love I received from her, I cry.
On the day of her funeral, I deliberately took the longest route to the funeral home because I didn’t want to be there but I had to. Walking down the hall to where her funeral was being held was the longest walk of my life. It’s been four years since she became an ancestor and in some ways, her death was harder on me than my mother’s death because childishly, I really believed that she would live forever.
Monday I received a phone call from my cousin Mark and he told me that his big sister, Rosemary had died. I was speechless for several minutes because my brain had stopped. Not Rosemary. Not my Rosemary. Eventually I was able to speak and was able to give him my condolences while crying incoherently. I heard the pain and the tears in his voice as we mourned deeply over the phone and I told him to get some rest and that I loved him. I put down the phone and let out a primal scream that brought my daughter running into my room.
She said “Mama what’s wrong!” And I screamed “Rosemary is dead boo. She’s gone.” And another chapter in my life ended. My mother didn’t have any daughters besides me but my cousin Rosemary was my big sister and I loved her.
Rosemary was the eldest daughter of my Aunt Carrie and she was a year older than my brother Randy who was born in 1960. She was the ultimate diva, always fly, hair whipped, smelling good and I wanted to be like her when I grew up. She was my inspiration for going into the clerical field because she was a legal secretary making big bank and power moves during the 80s.
She was one of most generous, kind, and funny souls I had the privilege of knowing and I was blessed to have her in my life. She was 63 years old when she left for the ancestral world on Monday and she will be missed because she was a hell of a woman.
The above ladies were my blood kin and my other mamas. They loved and nurtured me and I miss them fiercely. But I’m not the only person in the Black community who has or had other mamas who impacted their lives and we need to give these ladies their flowers for being such a huge part of the Black experience.
The Black community would have ceased to exist centuries ago if wasn’t for the contributions of these loving, kind, selfless women who loved hard but didn’t a have a problem with busting an irate fool upside the head if necessary. Bow down to the queens in your life. Because I do every day for my ladies who are no longer here but will live forever in my heart.
There has been an ongoing war between the sexes in the Black community for decades and it is time for it to end because it is pathetic and the only people hurting are the children. 70% of Black children reside in a single parent household; usually the mother and Black children are highly over represented in the foster care system. Black children are only 14% of the American population, but are in the foster care at the rate of 23% and that is a damn shame.
Some folks are so busy arguing amongst themselves about who is more trifling, Black men or Black women that they have absolved ourselves of all parental and community responsibility. No one wants to look in the mirror and change themselves but would rather sit back and blame each other while making a slew of babies that will grow up confused and fucked up. Ladies its too much birth control out here to be having children you do not want to be bothered with. Motherhood is a tour of duty that never ends and if you really don’t want to be bothered with responsibility of children, don’t have any. Stop letting these dudes whisper sweet nothings in your ear when that coochie is on fire, trying put stupid shit in your heads about having babies but ain’t said shit about marriage.
And men, I have not forgotten about y’all: if you do not want children, strap your boy up or get a vasectomy. Any man who is stupid enough to put the fate of his unborn children in the hands of a possibly unstable and vindictive woman deserves to have the child support system hounding his dumb ass for the rest of his life.
In past five years, there has been a big movement online, encouraging Black women to date outside their race and it has been fascinating to read the comments from some Black women on various websites as to why they have decided to date interracially. Because ironically, they sound just like some of these Black dudes when they give their reasons for not dating within their race but I ain’t the one to gossip so you didn’t hear that from me. American culture is a patriarchal one in which all men, regardless of their race or ethnicity, has been socialized to believe that they are superior to women. So if a Black woman thinks she will be escape patriarchy by turning to another race, she needs a reality check. The same premise goes for those Black men who told themselves that if they get a White woman, they will be as good as the White man and history has shown that premise to be a complete and utter lie.
Stereotypes about Black men and women that were originally created by the dominant culture are now running amok and being perpetrated by Black people themselves. The community is on the edge of a precipice but instead of coming up with feasible solutions to the problems of a poor educational system, poverty, lack of economic opportunities in blighted areas, and the high murder rate in inner-city neighborhoods, some of us would rather discuss the lives of celebrities who wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.
All these stereotypes do is keep Black folks at each other’s throats and Black communities throughout America are on fire as a direct result. It takes a village to raise a child and what happens when the village is at war with each other? A generation of angry children without love and compassion, hence the state of current Black America.
My mama left this world 15 years ago today and it hasn’t been a day in those 15 years that I haven’t thought about her. Especially now since I’m getting older, going through perimenopause and it’s many questions I would love to ask her.
Like did she cry like a broken hearted woman one minute and then be ready to beat someone’s ass the next minute? And after crying and raging, find herself giggling madly like a teenager? Because that’s me on a regular basis and I wish she was here so we could giggle together.
Like how did she feel when she became a grandmother? Did she look at her grandchildren with so much love and awe that her heart literally jumped for joy every time she saw their faces? Because that’s how I feel about my grandson. I wish she was here to see his face because I know she would have loved him to pieces.
And how did she feel about aging as a woman in a culture that hates all women but has a particular vicious venom for older women? All these questions I can’t ask her because she’s no longer here. That reality has saddened me for 15 years. That reality has left a bitter taste in my mouth, in my heart, in my soul.
I have so much to live for. My children, my grandchild and the new one who’s scheduled to be born on my mother’s 90th birthday in May but it’s a piece of me that was lost on December 6, 2006 when she became an ancestor. And that’s okay. We live in culture that shames people for grieving if it goes beyond the allotted timeframe that’s deemed acceptable. But I don’t give a fuck. I have the right to grieve for my mother forever. And I will.
In the months since my brother’s death, my emotions have been a kaleidoscope, ranging from the deepest of grief to fear. My mother gave birth to three children and I am the only one left. That’s real deep isn’t it? I have no one to grieve with: most people don’t know how to deal with emotions, particularly the emotions that come with death and at times, I have felt so alone. Even with being a mother who has children living in her house.
Back in December, I learned that my brother was missing. Then he was in the hospital and then put in a nursing home. In January, I learned that he was dying and on February 10, 2020, he crossed over. Just like that. That quickly, that quietly, and with that, my brother became an ancestor.
Randy, my second oldest brother died February 7, 1994 and February 10, 2020, Larry died. Our mother died back in December of 2006 and now it’s just me. Notice I did not mention a father and I will not. At this point, it doesn’t matter but many would disagree.
My little family is gone and all I have is memories and pictures. Like the time Larry came over drunk and rowdy and my mother and I beat his ass. Or the time Randy had some Sea-Monkeys and I poured a cup of sugar in the fish bowl to see what would happened (they died naturally and he was mad as hell). Or memories of going to work with my mother during school breaks. Memories that have made an indention on my brain that I cling to. The memories that keep my people alive in spirit if not in body.
Currently, the world is experiencing a pandemic and for 2 ½ months, Chicago was under quarantine. During that time, I had nothing to do but think and grieve. And that it is what I am currently doing now and will continue to do so. Only a demon will pretend to be blowing sunshine out of their asses when deep down in their heart, they are hurting and I’m not a demon. Will I be showing my entire ass, no, but if you see me lost in thought, smiling or teary eyed, I am thinking about my people.
Several years ago, I read the autobiography of Ava Gardner, an actress from the Golden Era of Hollywood and a really cool ass lady. I can’t remember right off hand the exact quote but in one of the earlier chapters, she discussed the death of her mother who died of uterine cancer and she said “You can get over a lot of things. Love, broken relationships but grief last forever.” “And lord she was telling the truth.
Because the grief of losing someone to death that you loved will never go away. You will learn to cope but you will never get over the lost. I don’t give care about how many grief books or articles you read. It doesn’t matter how many well meaning twits, I mean friends and relatives give you advice on how to deal with your grief, you will be dealing with grief for the rest of your life.
Are you supposed to dwell in your grief and waste away? No but it is not healthy to pretend that you are not devastated by the death of a loved one. In American culture, people are supposed to pretend that they are not bothered by death. That death is a natural part of life and that you should be happy that your loved one is no longer suffering and not of this world. And while that sounds good in perspective, no one is happy to lose someone to death that they loved. In the past two months, I have lost my brother and a woman that I loved like a sister. With the death of my brother was the end of my childhood family, the people that I had formed my earliest childhood memories with. At one time, it was myself, my mother and my brothers and now it is just me and that has been a bitter pill to swallow. I have come to the realization that I won’t get over it and that is okay.
And with the death of my friend was the lost of a friendship that meant so much to me. A woman I had known since 1992, who I lived with and who had welcomed me into her home with no hesitation. I cannot believe that I will never see my friend or hear her voice again. We were supposed to be old ladies with canes, cussing people out, telling them to get off our porches, but it wasn’t meant to be. And I know now that I won’t get over her death either and it is cool and normal to feel this way.
So for those who are grieving, whether you have been grieving for a day or for over 40 years, do not let anyone shame about how you decide to grieve. If necessary, tell those busybodies to kiss your ass and keep moving on with your life. You do not own an explanation to anyone on this planet about shit. Nothing. Nada. No Buenos. Just wipe away your tears and continue to remember your people. The longer we keep the dead alive, the better it is because they live forever in our hearts.
Recently I posted my third grade class photo and I can’t help but be fascinated by the little girl that I used to be in that picture. I was third from the left with two pigtails parted straight in the middle (my favorite hairstyle) and I had on a red turtleneck sweater and a denim jean skirt on. I had a huge smile on my face and I looked so happy.
That was in 1978. I was almost eight years old and I was a genuinely happy child during that period in my life. Although my father only came around sporadically, it didn’t matter to me because I had my ladies or The Matriarchs as I now refer to them. These ladies consisted of my mother, my aunts Rosie, Mary, and Maggie. My grandmother and my cousin Cleo.
I was the youngest child born to my mother and the youngest grandchild of 46. I lived in a building with my ladies and I was spoiled and petted. During school vacations, I would wait for my mother to come home from work and be in her face for a little bit and when my aunts got home from work, I would be in their faces. My grandmother didn’t work so I would spend lazy summer days with her, listening to slave narratives about hants (Southern vernacular for ghosts) and bones who refused to stay still.
Anytime my cousin Cleo would look like she was going anywhere, I was right by her side because where Cleo was, fun times was around. We go visit our other cousins in Bronzeville and sometimes she would take me and the rest of the cousins to to the Museum of Science and Industry or to the beach.
Life was so easy for me in those day before I got molested which would take place three years later and continue for four years. So much of my innocence was stripped away and I can tell when I see other pictures of myself as I grew older. Cynicism and wariness was in my eyes although I still had that big beautiful smile.
Maybe that’s why I absolutely despise child molesters, rapists and their ilk. These monsters strip away the innocence of children and childhood is supposed to be the happiest time of a human’s life. No child should have to worry about what’s going to happen when it gets dark. Or have to wear their street clothes to bed for fear of being groped.
But I see that little girl in the face of my grandson Karter. The same smile, the happiness, the joy of being alive and carefree. I would kill a motherfucker if I thought someone was trying to take away his joy.
When looking back at past eras, the 1950s is looked upon by many as an idyllic time in American history. The nuclear family headed by a male breadwinner was the desired norm and televisions shows such as Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy were popular. However, there was a dark side to this lifestyle. Women were treated like second-class citizens and some were living unhappily married because their financial and educational options were limited and they were as dependent on their husbands as their children.
The media, in collusion with the government, and sociologists constantly espoused the virtues of family and children and women, who wanted more out of life were looked upon as freaks of nature. However, some women during that era expressed dissatisfaction with their lives and an inarticulated longing for a life beyond their children and husbands. Some of these women were forced out the workforce after World War II and felt resentment that their only option for financial stability was marriage. This inarticulated longing would lead to a major social upheaval towards the end of the 1950s and would be the beginning of the second-wave feminist movement. This movement caused a shift in family values and altered family structure for future generations to come. The 1950s Family Experiment would be short-lived but fondly remembered.
Several factors lead to the forming of the nuclear family. By the end of the 1940s, the divorce rate dropped sharply; the ages of people getting married fell to a 100-year low; and the birth rate soared. Women dropped out of the workforce as soon as they become pregnant and some young women had two or more children in diapers at once. Also during this time, the education gap between young middle-class men and women increased and job segregation for working women and men peaked. Limited educational and job opportunities for women made them more dependent on marriage for their financial well-being.
Young, newly married couples were encouraged to sever their family ties and put all their emotional and financial eggs in the small basket of the immediate nuclear family. Women were told by experts that all their energies should be used for their husbands and children, not aging parents and other relatives. Psychiatrist Edward Strecker and various colleagues argued American boys were infantilized and emasculated by women who were old-fashioned “moms” instead of modern “mothers”.
Modern mothers placed their parents in nursing homes; old-fashioned mothers took their parents in at the expense of their own “important” nuclear family. A modern mother was not supposed to have friends, a job, or anything or anyone that would take attention from her husband and children. She was also supposed to grant early independence to her male child. It is no wonder that many women who believed in this advice and put it into practice ending up abusing alcohol or tranquilizers over the course of the decade.
Women were encouraged to confine themselves to a very narrow definition of “true” womanhood by a variety of sources such as family education specialists and marriage counselors, columns in women’s magazines, government pamphlets, and above all television. These experts told women during the 1950s that their greatest role on the planet was to be wives and mothers. The role of a “real” woman was to have no interest in a higher education or a career and women were taught by these experts to pity women who had the nerve to want a life beyond being a wife and mother.
Televisions shows such as Donna Reed, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, and Father Knows Best showed women how much easier their lives would be if their families were like those families and the I Love Lucy show warned women about the perils of what happened to a woman who wanted a career or if she schemed behind her husband’s back (Coontz, 38), The mothers on Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet were immaculately dressed with pearls around their necks. Their homes were clean and their children never got into trouble. However, on I Love Lucy, Lucy usually looked terrible by the end of the episode. Her hair was at times standing on top of her head and her clothes filthy from her weekly adventure. Women and their families watched these shows and tried their best to emulate the perfect and bright lives shown to them on a weekly basis.
Noticeably absent from these discussions are the role of Black women during this era. Black women were delegated to the background as housekeepers and nannies, taking care of other women’s children and then going home to take care of their families. So from the beginning, this image of a beautiful, bountiful lady of leisure that keeps her home, children, and herself immaculate was never intended for Black women because Black women never had and were not given those same opportunities. They had to work. But unlike white women, they received help from their extended family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family member assisted in the raising of children. Many parents left their children with family members when they made the trek to the North during the Great Migration and when they got on their feet, sent for their children and the family members who helped them.
However, towards the end of the 1950s, a dramatic shift occurred. Cultural values changed dramatically and the children of these women found the social hypocrisy of their parents sickening. Many young adults and some of their mothers would march in the streets to protest against sexism, racism, and militarism. Minorities and women began to receive the civil rights that were rightfully due to them and more and more women entered the workforce, forcing a dynamic shift in child rearing practices. By the 1970s, husbands and wives had begun to share household duties and women were no longer bound to their homes.
The concept of family has changed and although there have been some issues; it was ultimately for the best. Women have more rights but divorce is commonplace in current modern society and many children live in one-parent households. Despite the gains of the 1960s, women still face discrimination and do the majority of household work regardless of how many hours they work per week or if they have a partner. But women now have opportunities that would not have been imagined sixty-years ago. Children do not have to see their mothers treated like chattel and America is on the verge of electing the female President of the United States. Nothing remains the same – ever. The constantly changing landscape of the American family owes a lot to the women of the 1950s.