The concept of family, for me covers a broad expanse of relationships that include, and go a long way beyond biology. Although my mother was born and raised in Alabama, she left home at 14 and rarely returned to visit the south. Our family dynamic changed drastically when my mother divorced my father and sent my brother Godfrey, to live with her childless friend, known to us as Aunt Liz, and her first husband Uncle Ned. My brother and I struggled to maintain contact throughout our teens and he would sadly be murdered in his early twenties, by his brother-in-law, on his wedding day. My father would move away after the divorce and have another son that would ‘discover’ me, and invite me across country to attend his wedding! A cosmic coincidence.
Mother remarried into a family where the matriarch was very light-skinned and in some circles could have ‘passed.’ She was what elders called ‘color struck.’ Two of her five boys married light-skinned woman, one died a bachelor and my step-dad and his youngest brother married dark-skinned women – ironically both were named Sarah. Shortly after the marriage my sister Yvonne was born. The distance between our mother and her mother-in-law resulted in family gatherings that were few and far between. When they did occur, the interactions left me feeling awkward and unwelcomed. I maintained a loose connection to my maternal grandmother in Alabama after my infancy through letters. But she surprised me by taking the train to Chicago to attend my high school graduation! After I returned from living abroad in the 90’s our family took a road trip to visit her and she died several years later.
My relationship with my biological father was almost exclusively maintained through letters and the occasional long-distance phone call and when he died of cancer in 1989, I was left only with the wisdom he had shared with me through his long, impeccably written letters. His brother, Uncle Pete, a Chicago Police Officer and his wife Aunt Connie never had children and enjoyed lavishing gifts on me and Yvonne at holidays but we rarely saw them otherwise. There has been a plethora of love in my life, from a variety of sources and I am grateful. Yet, when I saw the movie Soul Food I realized that they shared a kind of physical intimacy that was not part of my experience.
My greatest achievement is having been the channel of life for the five wonderful children, and their collective fifteen children, that call me EMAH, which in Hebrew means mother. Because of the communal lifestyle my children’s father and I lived in West Africa, and the close relationships that are inevitable when children and parents didn’t always reside in the same compound, I developed loyalties with the families that often cared for my children. To this day, I treasure many of those connections and at times this is difficult for other than my closest friends to understand our closeness. How do you explain caring for and breastfeeding children that you didn’t give birth to? And that their mothers have done the same for you.
Besides the children I gave birth to, I have a bonus daughter, who often introduces me as her ‘Stand-in-love-Mom.’ I can close my eyes and hear her screams the night she tragically lost her mother “What am I supposed to do! Please tell me what I should do!” I remember shutting my eyes and asking Spirit to speak the right words through me. That night deepened the bond between us. I am honored to be the woman she often reaches for in her mother’s absence.
Good neighbors and the handful of male friends who provided fatherly guidance for my sons and daughters when I found myself a single parent are treasures. They are as close as family and I honestly couldn’t have raised my brood without them. I’m also blessed with a host of ride-or-die sister friends who cheer for my victories and don’t judge my detours.
After the death of my beloved calico cat, I was unable to love a pet until nine months ago when I adopted a lively tortoise shell kitten, who has become a delightful addition to my life. Defining family is tough as I find it hard to put boundaries around relationships. For me, family supersedes bloodlines and embraces the emotional ties that bind us through our affections, our differences and our experiences. It’s the community of souls that care for, and are cared for, by me. They are the silken threads that bring me closer to the Divine. As it happens this family is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-species mosaic of souls. Imagine that!
– Susan D. Peters
Susan D. Peters, aka, Ahnydah (ah-NIE-dah) Rahm, brings a wealth of experience gained as an expatriate living in West Africa. Her memoir Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, received the Black Excellence Award for Non-Fiction from the African American Alliance of Chicago and the Mate E. Palmer award for Non-Fiction from the Illinois Press Women’s Association. Broken Dolls, Susan’s second book, represents her foray into the mystery market and is the first of a series featuring Detective Joi Sommers as its heroine. Her work is featured in three anthologies, Baring It All, the Ins and Outs of Publishing, Signed, Sealed, Delivered … I’m Yours, a contemporary romance anthology, and The Anthology of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Buy her books online and at www.SusanDPeters.com.