Sitting With ‘Mama’ on Juneteenth: Words From My Grandma

June 19, 2020

On this Juneteenth, I sit on my grandma’s porch in the dewy Florida air watching the blue birds land in the grass, listening to the mockingbirds sing and the woodpecker pecking into the the old Sabal palm. Sitting still and listening to my mom talking to my aunt as my grandma sips her tea; I think about the significance of our house sitting next door to hers. My grandma gifted my mom with the land to build a home for me and my brother. I’m appreciative of my childhood, the village. I grew up rising on Saturday mornings to my grandma stirring in her kitchen. I loved being able to scream from my mom’s bathroom window to talk to her. Running next door to eat grits, sardines and fried eggs, I loved staring out the big bay window as my mom read the paper and my grandma cooked with occasional visits from my brother. I also loved hearing the window shake from the loud slowed down music from the cars that passed by. Lastly, how could I forget the past time of being able to go “Debo” some sugar from grandma’s house? Ah. 

Have you ever just sat and pondered about who you are, your childhood and the legacy of your family?

The other day I thought about my ancestors being able to survive slavery and migrating from the Carolinas and Alabama to Florida. I think about my grandma’s life a lot. We spend a lot of time together ever since she was diagnosed with dementia. Her random spurts of memories are like finding gold at the end of the rainbow. But I’ve been by her side my entire life when I think about it. Riding in the back of her Honda Civic for many occasions from: visiting Miss Essie, Sistah Jewel, Aunt Doris, Aunt Christine and the rest to learning to sing “I won’t Complain”  and listening to Azusa and the Mighty Clouds of Joy after school. 

“Yeah one thing about Mama is that she paced herself. But she didn’t wear herself out. She had help like from her friend Miss Rose. Mama, you remember Miss rose?” said my mama.

“Yeah that was my baby,” said my grandma.

“Yeah Miss Rose use to help clean up. And the only thing with Mama, we never had a washing machine.”

 This is the conversation from this morning after my mom brought out my grandma’s tea to the fence. She eventually came over to talk with her sister in law aka my grandma’s caregiver, Aunt Brenda about my grandma’s legacy. I’ve been sleeping by granny’s bedside each night because she hasn’t been feeling the best but I’m not sure if it’s her just being down in spirit. Earlier in the week she lost her last living sister. My grandma, the second oldest of her mama’s six children has been the beacon of strength for our entire family on both sides. So we never saw her cry much unless she was caught in the spirit and giving thanks to the Lord. 

My grandma’s mother Willie Mae who they affectionately called Mother was 12yrs old when she had Uncle Fred and 14 yrs old when she had grandma and her father slightly older.

“Why did y’all call her mother and not mama?”

“Well, I wanted her to know that she was my mother. I made the others call her that too. We respected her.” 

My grandma, Claretha, was born in 1934 so I could only imagine what it was like. Sometimes me and my mom joke with her and ask “about living in slavery.” (You have to make humor out of life. She taught us that) She told us about how she sometimes didn’t even have good shoes to wear. So we know her strength started early.

“Yes, when I was 6 years old I was cleaning those white people’s house with Big Mama.” 

Because it’s hard for me to mentally even picture my ancestors I look at my grandma and understand that this is a lineage of strength. She has the same strength it took to be able to withstand slavery and to be free from it. Only a couple of generations before she was born. She passed that strength down to my mama which was then passed to me. She calls me and my mom “Mama” and my mom calls her “mama” and I call her “grandma or mommy” I never thought about how significant that name mama was until recently. It strings us together. 

“So if my granny was born in 1934 that would mean her mother, Willie Mae was born in 1919. I’m sure Big Mama “Hutta”, Willie Mae’s mother was born in about 1903. This means slavery ended about 35+ years prior in 1865.”

Imagine that. With nothing, you have everything. With nothing, you manage to extend a legacy. My grandma proclaims that she was saved from an early age. At 6 she’d almost drowned on her way to school and after that vowed to devote her life to Christ. Young? I know. This strength came from Jesus. I see the long line of prayers that sustained this legacy. A Mother and grandma’s prayers are nothing to be taken lightly. Everyday she continuously teaches us that in her weakness is where she finds His strength. 

“Thank ya Jesus.” 

She often tells me about how she didn’t want to continue to raise her children in the projects and made sure of it. In 1965, she put down $10 on her house…the same porch that I’m sitting on now.

“Mama, it was only God. Because I prayed hard and I told Frank that I didn’t want to raise our kids in the projects. I only had $10 on me when I put down for my house and that white man who offered me the house took it and built it.”  

She was also one of the first black people to integrate her job and the white folks, as she refers to them, would come to her for prayer. She retired there after 30 years. There are so many other blessings that she tells me about. Faith in Jesus is what allowed this lady to have 4 children to graduate from all major universities and three of which were preachers. 

“You know mama, I had a full ride to Tuskegee but I stayed here. Your graduation from Washington DC (Howard)…I’ll never forget it. It is one of the best memories in my life.” 

My life is the extension of faith. A legacy of faith. The reliance on Him. Understanding this gives me freedom and joy. Although I can’t fully trace back my roots, I see the branches of it sitting next to me when I look at my mama and grandma. Being able to sit with them on the porches of homes that these two black women own…that is what I call Jubilee. The foundation that they built with understanding that only through Jesus would we find our peace and freedom is what sustains me. Being a young activist and journalist during these times, I think about my grandma. 

“Jesus tells us not to worry. Just do what you can.” 

I shol won’t and I shol will.

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Take this day of Juneteenth and relax. Smile. Breath. Enjoy yourself and know that in the end everything is going to be ok no matter which way the coin turns. There will be darkness but it takes darkness to amplify the goodness of the light. I love you Black people. Happy Juneteenth. 

Author: Nave Sizon

Founder of Naveszn.com - I'm a FL native, a Howard and Columbia grad and a creator of many things. As a polymath, I do so much. I care about so many things. Naveszn.com was the perfect tool to utilize my gifts and my love for highlighting the talents and stories of black people and culture.

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Author: Nave Sizon

Founder of Naveszn.com - I'm a FL native, a Howard and Columbia grad and a creator of many things. As a polymath, I do so much. I care about so many things. Naveszn.com was the perfect tool to utilize my gifts and my love for highlighting the talents and stories of black people and culture.