My first Garden Spices© article was a lament to the decision to place my mother in a nursing home. Since then, I have regaled you with my “Marbline Box” stories… or “Granny” as we have called her since her first grandchild was born in 1967. My grandmother was already Big Mama. I have shared stories of how a single parent raised four daughters; raised two grandsons when their mother died at age 26; how she became “Granny Box” to a generation of children (now adults with their own children) in the co-op where she lived from 1965 to 2013 before relocating to Chicago’s south suburbs. During her homegoing celebration, her great-grandson, Caleb, spoke laughingly about sharing his Granny with the neighborhood children as well as the children at church. The congregation chuckled knowingly.
Our cousin, The Honorable Charles E. Box, the first and only black man elected mayor in our hometown of Rockford, Illinois, memorialized Granny with references from The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. He labeled her and that entire generation as miracle workers. They left home and family to create a life in a foreign place…a place they arrived at with nothing other than faith in God, a willingness to stick together, to work hard, to love family, and to educate children who have gone on to make a difference in this world. Lawyers, educators, principals, college professors, social workers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and solid citizens.
My cousin’s remarks reminded me of how proud my mother was when I was awarded a scholarship to Bradley University. She never missed a campus parent’s weekend, although it meant missing a Saturday at work and a Sunday at church. She was proud of my academic success and that of my sisters. She was present for graduations and other commendations. One of the pictures I hold dear is me in my Ph.D. hood and hat wrapped in my mother’s arms following the ceremony. You cannot see either of our faces, only feel the love and pride of accomplishment. Another picture posted in Garden Spices was family surrounding my sister, Cheryl when she completed her Ed.D.
Less than a month before that day, Cheryl had undergone her second colorectal cancer surgery. Watching her walk down that aisle with her head held high, and no indication of her recent ordeal was another of my mother’s greatest joys.
Marbline demonstrated love through action. Another special photo was taken on my wedding day…a traditional mother-of-the-bride photo… her fixing my veil before the ceremony. There’s such love in her eyes that I lo it reflects how much mother cares for me throughout the years. When the marriage fractured, I went home for comfort. Marbline said my two children and I could return home. I could get a job, and we would move on together. While I did not accept her offer to move back to Rockford, I sent my children to her every summer. Extended family, the neighborhood children surrounded them and, as a result, they have delightful stories to share about their grandmother, church, and “The Terrace”.
During the week leading up to her final services, her services, Granny Box’s village poured out its love by regaling us with funny, sad, and always memorable tales of how she was there through enjoyable times, difficulties, and what her life meant to them. My mother knew how to love people and to be gracious. Another Garden Spices article focused on my absentee father, who decided he wanted to be an active participant in his children and grandchildren’s lives later in life. My sisters and I laughed at the awkward silences or rolled our eyes at the various interactions between the two of them. Yet my mother’s actions allowed me to come to terms with my issues surrounding my ex-spouse because my children loved their father and wanted him included in their extraordinary events. I had a living example of putting the children first and not dwelling on the past.
Finally, my mother chose to live her life through service to others. The Missionary Society reminded us that her greatest loves after “extended” family were her AME church activities, Winnebago County Jail Ministry, and volunteering at various community-based soup kitchens. She spent seventeen years as Director of the Julia Wade Soup Kitchen operated by Allen Chapel AME Church until it closed in 2000. Her basic premise was all participants would receive a welcoming greeting, kindness, and a hot meal. She acknowledged the humanity of every person who walked through the church’s doors by cooking a home-cooked meal weekly; she never served soup. During holidays, the attendees’ received a special meal befitting the season.
During this phase of my life, I have decided to make way for joy. Ninety-five years of abundant living and loving is a cause for celebration. Yes, I am shedding tears as I type this because I miss my mother, because of the wonderful examples she demonstrated in every season of her life, and because I am choosing to honor her by making way for joy!
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Joyce A. Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women, but her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria and Battle Creek, Michigan. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens. Visit her Author’s Page