Soundtrack to this post: Matthew Halsall's Colour Yes
I want to tell you a story of a woman born in the 1930s in a small town in Arkansas. Born to a father who came into the world at the turn of the century and a mother who was half his age. Her father's parents are a mystery shrouded in whispers of murder. I want to tell you of the only "grandparents" she knew, an anomaly of the day -- a white family who wasn't afraid to openly show kindness to a black child in the Jim Crow South.
I want to tell you that story but even though that's the beginning, it's the one I know the least well.
I want to tell you the story of how she migrated north to Detroit at the age of 9. How she was already strong and independent (something she would instill in all her daughters) and how, at 17, she got it in her mind to go to Chicago and see the world. How she'd meet a handsome man, just a few years older than she. He was a smooth talker and knew how to show a girl a good time and before long they were with child. And not long after that, they were married.
I want to tell you the complicated story of their love but I'm not sure it's mine to tell.
I want to tell you about the Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the removal of barriers to education that that brought, which sent this woman, who had only worked as a housekeeper, back to school. I want to tell you how she became a librarian so that she could be sure to always have her own money and never feel like she needed that man she loved but... (like I said, it's complicated). And, also because she adored books. I want to tell you how everything they owned, from the house to the cars, were in her name. Bought, generally, with her money. And, you should also know, that all her children, most of whom, like her, had children at a young age, all went on to college or the military and all of whom, those that still walk this earth, are at the top of their fields.
I want to tell you that story so that you know, and I know, that my good fortune isn't from magic but from the hard work and determination of generations before me. Women, mostly. But my story isn't her story.
I want to tell you that at 76 years old, this woman is still vibrant. She may walk slowly and have to rock herself out of chairs. She may repeat her anecdotes often and confess that she's lonely in that empty house of hers and still broken hearted by the losses that living this long brings. But, she's alive. Her laughter and her eyes still light up a room as bright as they ever did. She is still excited to learn and see new things. She can still spin a delicious yarn when she gets going. It is still the best thing going when she forgets she's talking to her grandson and lets out a curse word in the most jaw-droppingly delightful way. It is still a pleasure to spend time in her presence. She's alive and doesn't have plans on quitting this plane anytime soon. And I'm all the better for it.
And that's the story of a life worth telling.