Raisin bread and ginger lemonade. These culinary delights were the main reason Angelita’s grandmother could often be found at her mother’s sister’s house when all the other kids in the family hated going. Her grandmother’s aunt was a hot tempered and stern woman, born in Jamaica with the Irish temper of her father. She was a proud woman and the children knew better than to tangle with her. But the raisin bread that she baked when her nieces and nephews visited was enough reason for Angelita’s grandmother to keep visiting when she was young. She would tolerate the company of her stern aunt, but the ginger lemonade and raisin bread were what she really came for, and they kept her coming throughout her childhood. As she got older, she found less motivation in food and drink and her visits slowly faded, as is the custom of youth.
Angelita remembers her grandmother fondly as a woman who was calm and stable, always helping out other women in the community. People knew to come to her when they had a problem, whether it was as small as a squabble with a friend or relative, or as serious as domestic abuse. Yet one of Angelita’s most memorable life lessons occurred at the hands of her more austere great-aunts when she was 8 years old.
“My grandmother took me to visit my great-aunt, an occasion in which only best manners and behavior were to be displayed. During the course of the visit, my grandmother made some request of me, and childishly, I refused and stomped my way down the hall to grump in my great-aunt's living room. I was having a good cry when all of a sudden my great-aunt appeared in front of me.
”With icy demeanor, she proceeded to scold me, to reprove me for my poor attitude toward my grandmother, who showed only loving kindness to me. Then, she took me by my arm, marched me into the kitchen where my grandmother was taking tea, and bade me apologize and kiss my grandmother.
”I was so ashamed, and so impressed with this display of vigor from a ninety-year old woman, that I obeyed without question.”
It wasn’t until years later that Angelita learned the history of her grandmother’s mother and sister (her stern great-aunt, and great-grandmother) and realized the irony and perhaps the deeper meaning in this lesson that her great-aunt gave her. To the mind of an eight year old, it taught her how to treat others, especially those she loved. But to her adult mind, the meaning of this lesson runs even deeper.
Angelita’s great-grandmother and great-aunt came to Boston from Jamaica together. They lived only blocks from one another. They had been through so much together and they were blood. Yet at some point, a rift formed between them. No one knows exactly what happened and, as in all families, speculation abounds from money issues to jealousies regarding spouses, but the truth was never known to anyone but the feuding sisters. Fifty years elapsed with the two women never uttering a word to one another. Even unto death, the two women never spoke. Fortunately, this silence did not extend to each other’s children, and so Angelita’s grandmother developed something of a relationship with the woman who refused to speak to her mother, even if it was based largely upon those gastric delights.
People would visit Angelita’s great-aunt when she needed the help from those she trusted. But instead of helping her, they’d showed up in time to take her Social Security check, promise to use it to pay her bills, but instead run off with the money and leave the bills unpaid.
Many years later, after the visits had stopped because she had grown and developed a life beyond the food treats that will motivate a child, Angelita’s grandmother ran into an acquaintance who also knew her aunt. She told her of the sorry state her aunt was in. Angelita’s grandmother went to visit her aunt and found that the once strong and proud woman she had known in her youth was now incontinent and couldn’t take care of herself.
She now saw before her a woman who walked with a cane who was being taken advantage of by those she had once called friends. People would visit Angelita’s great-aunt when she needed the help from those she trusted. But instead of helping her, they’d showed up in time to take her Social Security check, promise to use it to pay her bills, but instead run off with the money and leave the bills unpaid.
This time, it was about much more than raisin bread and ginger lemonade. And this wasn’t a woman with a bruise and children in tow who needed a place to stay. This was both flesh and blood, even if this was the same woman who even at her mother’s deathbed, refused to acknowledge her own sister. But her grandmother’s response to such a situation demonstrates the kind of woman Angelita remembers her grandmother being. If someone needed help, she recalls her grandmother “rolling up her sleeves and doing it”. She saw someone who needed her and she responded. In this case, that meant moving in with her aged aunt and living there for two years taking care of her and straightening out her finances.
It was during this time that Angelita’s care-giving experience changed her life, both for what it meant in the moment, and for its larger meaning now knowing the history of these two women. Hers is a lineage of strong and proud women. It is also a lineage of charity and love. This is what she passes on to her young daughter. It is a legacy that has made her into the woman she is today; a doula, a women’s advocate, and a mother. In her own words, Angelita sums it up best....
“Time on, I have looked back on that incident, and been glad of the lesson. Our family has a history of not settling disputes amicably, of stiff necks and proud hearts. This has led to separations, people leaving home, never to see their loved ones again, to harsh words and unhealed rifts. Now that I have my own children, I work hard to say to them when necessary, "I am sorry, it was my fault; I love you, I apologize."
Thank you Angelita, for sharing your Story with us.
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(c) 2009 by Cara Moorehead and Story of My Life®