Thursday, February 12, 2009
Last weekend, I got a huge gift. My cousin Barbara, who has moved to the family's ancestral home, and her family, came to visit, and brought with her a treasure trove of information about my mother's paternal grandparents. Until last Saturday, I had never seen my Great-grandmother Mattie and Great-Grandpapa Jake. They were just names, bits of old stories my mother used to tell. Now they are real. I know now how much my beloved Gramps looked like his father. And I know how my great-uncles and aunts looked at my age. It was a wonderful experience and I am grateful that my cousin shared these heirlooms with me.
As I have explored my family history, it is the women that fascinate me most. I guess because I identify with them and because I lament how history erases them. My male ancestors--I can kind of make them come to life with draft registrations, military records, land deeds and such. Women--at least in the early 20th century--can rarely be found in those documents. What's worse, their names change. Sometimes Jane Doe becomes Jane Jenkins and you can never find her again. (Another reason for women to hang on to their "maiden" names.)
So, I was especially excited to see my great-grandmother and to learn a little about her, like that she was a writer--a prolific poet. How a black woman finds time to raise 10 children on a farm in the Deep South in the early 1900s, and also write poetry, I don't know. (I can't even find time to clean the living room.) But I am glad that she stole time to do this, and I think it tells me a little about her. Her poetry reveals much, too. It is filled with humor, lessons that she must have taught her children, and honor for her God and his creations.
Great-grandmother Mattie was very "grrrl power." This poem makes me chuckle.
God gave to the first man, Adam, a beautiful place to live.
And for his comfort and pleasure, a woman he did give.
At first they both were happy, as husband and wife should be,
until they ate the forbidden fruit that grew on a certain tree.
They were walking through the shrubs and flowers, their Lord they did a-spy.
They wrapped some leaves around them and quickly tried to hide.
But God called out, "Oh, Adam! Have you eaten of this tree?"
Adam said, "Lord, this woman bit the fruit and passed it on to me."
Adam stood right there in the garden, wrapped up in all those leaves,
knowing that God gave him the law, yet put it all on Eve.
So wives, you may as well toughen up; you needn't fret or stew.
Your husbands will always break the law and put all the blame on you.
Adam in the Garden by Mattie Rivers Millender is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
And this is my favorite, because these are words needed more now than when they were first written.
When you were asked for a little donation
You can talk about the pearly gates,
Will God, the Father, welcome you
What excuse will you render at the judgement bar
It's not the value of the gift you give,
When the curtains are lowered and the chapter is closed
When the Curtains are Lowered by Mattie Rivers Millender is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.