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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A Great-Grandmother Who Listened


                             


I was born and raised in the Jim Crow racial segregation of the South. I sat behind the signs for white people on the public bus and  stood when empty seats were not available for colored people. I drank clear water from the "colored" fountain and attended segregated schools that were not equal. I grew up experiencing America’s daily misery of racial injustice. Like many African Americans who remember being colored, Negro, and Black, my unimportance to the larger society was the norm.

But something special happened to me when I was very young. I bonded with my great-grandmother. I didn’t realize until I was much older that many children did not have or even know their great-grandmothers like I did. I knew a woman who smiled when I entered a room, a woman whose arms hugged me with soft wrinkled skin. I remember a vision crowned with gray hair that made her look like a queen. That was my Mama Lelia.

What really made Mama Lelia so special was that she listened to me, I mean really listened to whatever I had to say. I had plenty to say long before I started school. I think I was around four when I realized this wonder of a woman and I belonged exclusively to each other. I was much younger, and she was much older. We were two extremes creating a close partnership through casual conversations.

I shared everything I saw, heard, smelled, tasted and touched with her in words. She shared her patient power of paying attention. My words poured out from a place of knowing she was eager to hear me. Her gentle smile revealed enthusiastic acceptance that affirmed my worth when she responded with passionate praise such as “That’s so nice, baby” and “Just keep on doing your best!”  

In another world on this same Earth where I lived far away from Mama Lelia’s special haven-heaven, every day was a reminder of how insignificant I was to many people, mostly white people. Signs everywhere told me I was not welcome. Images of brown children were often not popular in a positive way. Because I was colored, I was unfairly denied many beneficial experiences white children enjoyed, including the use of a public library, a warehouse of words I craved, on the same block where I lived. 

Inside our little paradise where I was always appreciated, Mama Lelia listened to me with adoring attention that was far more powerful than either of us could have imagined then. Her loving listening when I yearned so much to be heard helped me know to this very day that my black life matters.


Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

8 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful story of love between two related souls. Thank you for sharing this. --Mildred--

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    1. Thanks, Mildred. Mama Lelia is the reason I am so supportive of intergenerational partnerships. I appreciate your kind comments and friendship.

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  2. Beautifully written and caused me to think about my childhood.

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    1. Thank you for your wonderful response. Childhood memories have a way of visiting us over and over providing interesting insights. Be love(d). Frances

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  3. Frances, my wonderful, talented friend,thanks for sharing the powerful relationship you experienced with your great-grandmother. She would be so proud of who you are and the contributions you have made in the lives of so many people and to many human causes. I never spent time with grandparents or my father. This left a real void in my life, but I vowed to be the best mother and grandmother to my two wonderful sons and four grandchildren. I have always admired you as an educator and valued you as my friend. Congratulations to you for the gifts you have shared with so many people, and keep up the good work. Be blessed and safe dear friend!

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    1. Thank you so much for this wonderful word bouquet. I admire the way you made your own experience so positive. Keep up your own wonderful work. Know that I always wish you the best. Be love(d). Frances

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  4. Thank you Frances for sharing this story of you and your great grandmother. How amazing it was that you two could connect so powerfully and its resonance continues today! As always your writing is beautiful, vibrant and makes clear the impact of important relationships

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    1. Peter, your beautiful response made me blush. No one knows older adults like Mama Lelia better than you do, a gerontologist admired by many. I hope our story will encourage others to really listen to one another. It reminds me of the African proverb: "To the world, you may be one person. But, to one person, you may be the world." Thanks for all your support through the years.
      Sincerely,
      Frances

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