Too Thrifty Chicks

Think.Thrift.Create


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For Annie Mae Jones Jeffers

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You are hand kneaded dough that rises to become hot bread. Bread, that along with molasses is considered a meal. But I don’t like molasses, so I always just ate it plain. You are gravy and fried chicken. You are coffee that I am too young to drink. But you. You let me drink it anyway, and the taste for it is always with me even to this day.

You are summers spent barefoot in the sunshine. You are a garden tomato eaten raw, juicy with salt. You are a cut in half tire, turned seesaw. You are muscadine grapes and flowers that grow in controlled chaos. You are my love for rocking chairs and sitting porches. You are chocolate cake and maybe I have been craving the taste of chocolate because I knew this day was coming.

You are women gathered at the table. Gathered in the wonderland of your yard. Gathered long after dark and the lightening bugs have come out. Laughing. Loud and untamed. Happy tears of mirth, running down dark cheeks. And occasionally a little trickle of urine. You are a dip of snuff. Tucked expertly between teeth and lower lip. You are the master pincher. In a family full of men that you loved and gave life, you are the heartbeat at the center of the tree.

FullSizeRender 105When I was told that you had passed, my heart went straight into my throat and then took a free fall into my stomach. Given that you were in your 80s, your passing is not unexpected — should not be unexpected. But who can ever be prepared for death?

I remember very clearly the last time we really spoke. I was in town for A.J.’s wedding. I’d stopped by your house to change clothes.

“Who you,” you asked. “It’s me, Mommae. Keshia.” You looked at me. Uncertainty clouding your face. “Keshia?” “Yes, Mommae. Keshia.” We went through that line of questioning about three times. We did it again after I changed into my dress.

“That’s a pretty dress,” you said. “Who you?”

I am what you helped make me. I am every ounce of love that you poured into me and everyone you have ever come into contact with. I am the wind from rolled down windows on winding country roads. I am pallets on floors and fatback meat. I am wild plums and wild strawberries. I am one of the many seeds in the garden of your family. Thank you for the sunshine of your smile, the strength of your hugs and the nourishing water of your laughter. I honor you. I love you. Thank you for being my bonus grandmother.

 

 


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A Celebration of Life: Minnie Mae Turns 80!

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My 8th grade history teacher once assigned the task of interviewing a family member and writing up a history of that person’s life and I chose my maternal grandmother, Minnie Mae Jones Jeffers, better known as “Sis”. I was living with her and my late grandfather because my mom and dad were still active duty Army and one was in Korea and the other was in Kuwait.

My grandmother told me what it was like being the baby girl of a large family; what it was like to grow up farming tobacco; and what it was like to get married real young, start a family in the country and move that family to the big city of Philadelphia. It was the first awareness that I had of my grandmother as more than just my grandmother. I am pretty sure it also was the first time that I was aware that I had the power to tell other people’s stories. My grandmother still talks about that assignment and for many years, until I borrowed it back, she kept the pages I wrote among her keepsakes.

Fast forward some 20 years, to Johannesburg, South Africa, January 2014…

I believe that Reese and I are great friends because we recognize that the Universe has connected us in very specials ways. As she wrote in a previous post, last year we were in South Africa celebrating her birthday on Jan. 2, when her beloved grandmother, Helen Marie, passed away on Jan. 3. Oddly enough, my G-ma celebrated her 79th birthday,  a day later.  If we knew then, what we know now, those three events — life, death, life — should have been a harbinger for things to come, or at least a lens for viewing life. Ultimately, those events have been a reminder that things can be great, rough and then great again.

One year later…

When I was telling Reese, whom my G-ma affectionately calls “Sunshine”, my plans to head to Philadelphia to celebrate her 80th birthday, I could tell by her texts that she was dealing with something. She finally told me that in fact, she was thinking on losing her own grandmother last year. I immediately felt like an insensitive heel. Here I was preparing to celebrate my grandmother’s life and had forgot that Reese is still mourning her grandmother’s death. How do we talk about this?

What I remember saying to Reese is that I thought it was interesting that because of the special connection we share, her grandmother’s death is bookended by celebrations of  life: her own and my grandmother’s. Life can be funny like that.

My G-ma is my last living grandparent and I don’t know how many more years we have together. If she has her way it will be at least 20 more because she told me her goal is to “make 100!”

That’s not a bad goal for a black woman born in the Jim Crow South, who managed to raise eight kids (who have given her an army of grandchildren and great-grandchildren); buy two houses, in two different states and still own them; survived two strokes; and the death of her husband of more than 50 years, almost 12 years ago.

She may not be able to walk a mile, but she can still shake a tailfeather. So at her 80th birthday party, I asked my grandmother three questions and her responses are in italics:

  • What is her secret to reaching 80? “I always try to be nice….and I guess, I just kept on praying, kept on praying.”
  • What’s the best piece of advice she ever received? “Always listen to the old people when they tell you how to do something and always do your best to do it. Oh, and good food! (she said chuckling) GOOD FOOD!”
  • What is the best piece of advice she ever gave? “Try to be nice and love people like you would want them to love you.”

My grandmother has done her best by those things, especially the food part, all my life, but they haven’t protected her from tragedy. Since my grandpop died, she lost her youngest daughter to cancer, buried two grand sons and a brother who has been her nearest and most dependable neighbor and friend for more than 20 years.

She has watched one of her older sisters deal with Alzheimer’s, only to discover that her oldest daughter now grapples with the ravages of the disease. What Langston Hughes wrote in his poem  “Mother to Son,” is what Reese’s grandmother, Helen-Marie, and my grandmother, Minnie Mae, knew and know:  “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” but it is worth the small kindnesses you show to others, it’s worth the prayers and it’s worth the love.

Happy Birthday Granny Sis and well done Ms. Helen Marie. Well done!

– Ricks


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A Pie for You, Mama

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI loved picking blackberries when I was a kid, but not for the sake of loving it. I loved it because I knew that if my sisters and I picked enough, my grandmother would take those berries and make a pie. My goodness, I loved my grandma’s blackberry pie. I’d watch her roll out the dough, line the bottom of a 9×12 pan with dough, pour a layer of berries, add another layer of dough, and repeat it until the pan was full. Most times, I’d sit in the kitchen and wait, or I’d run next door to my house only to return about 30 minutes later to see if the pie was ready.

Today is my grandmother’s 81st birthday. She can no longer make blackberry pies or garden or fish or drive herself to church 3 or 4 times a week. She can’t do any of these things, because she can’t remember how to do them.

My grandmother taught me how to sew. She taught me how to bake a cake. She was the person who heard me spell my winning word when I qualified for the Scripps National Bee in 3rd grade. She took me fishing, picked me up from athletic practices, whooped my behind when I needed, and made me wear stockings to church even though IP1080648hated it. She showed me what grace looks like in action and reminded me that there’s never a need to raise your voice…and if you did, you often looked silly doing it (my sisters, cousins, and I always laughed at her for trying to yell at us). She was devoted to her church, but more than that, she was committed to the idea of loving thy neighbor as thyself. She is the one and only person I have called “mama” my entire life. She’s strong, a classic example of not succumbing to the woes of the world.

I cannot be in Texas today to celebrate her birthday. Even if I was, she wouldn’t know who I am. Instead, I celebrate her day by baking a blackberry pie (not as good as hers…no time to make dough from scratch), and committing to volunteer at least 20 hours over the next six weeks. What better way to celebrate the person who taught me the beauty of working with my hands and the joy of helping others?

image (4)Mama, today’s pie is for you. I frustrated you when you taught me how to sew. You often thought I talked to much. There were times when you felt like I was not always appreciative of all you did. But, I also know that you were proud of me and your other grands. I cannot go back and redo those awful stitch lines, or close my mouth instead of arguing, or show you more appreciation during the times you felt like you were undervalued. I do hope the pride you felt was enough to make the frustrations worth it.  What I can do is sow your legacy into the world and spread goodwill and justice wherever I go…and one day, if I have a tiny human, I will teach her that her great grandma was a gentle, loving reminder that the Universe’s love is spread through how we choose to treat people. Happy Birthday, Mama. I am so proud to be your legacy.