While most kids have memories of sleepovers with friends, I remember sleepovers at my grandma’s house until I was 16. Our days were filled with fresh food, lemonade and stories of her life on the farm in Alabama with 12 brothers and sisters.
One of our favorite projects was gardening. We tore open small bags of seeds that said “cucumber,” “squash,” “watermelon” and “tomato,” and marveled at the various colors and shapes of wire for the garden’s perimeter. Then we’d grab three good shovels, the sprinkler and, of course, a few old-fashioned Southern sun hats.
“Let’s go fool around with this ol’ garden,” Grandma would say. I couldn’t wait for the moment when the barren dirt would spring to life and colorful, fresh vegetables would emerge. Grandma’s eyes filled at the sight and I always wondered why it meant so much to her.
Years later I realized she was remembering life in the South as a sharecropper, when she and my grandfather were forced to turn over part of their garden’s harvest to a landowner in exchange for land.
During this Mother’s Day season, I am reminded of my grandma’s compassion and tenacity, qualities that have shaped my own personality and strengthened my family. Her mother, my great-grandmother, didn’t have much money but did the best she could to encourage her kids to value education and trust God with everything. Growing up in segregated Alabama, Grandma witnessed senseless violence and racism that prevented her from experiencing simple pleasures like purchasing a Coke from the local store. Two of her siblings died from heart attacks in their 20s and one drowned.
When Grandma was in her 20s, she and my grandfather had an altercation with the family they sharecropped with and moved north to a predominantly white suburb in Massachusetts. Adjusting to the new environment, juggling several jobs, four children and church commitments, helping extended family and surviving multiple incidents of domestic violence, my grandmother persevered silently, spreading her love to others without recognition or reciprocity.