Ancestors born before 1900

Ancestors born before 1900
Frances Simpkins, Leah Foote, Emmaline Foote, Rosetta Foote

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Grandmother's Hands

When Gram, Lucille Ruth Lee Stokes, went to Heaven on December 6, 2006, I took down the poem I'd written for her and placed it in her coffin. I finally stumbled on an early version of it today as I try to make a dent in the mess I've made of her once impeccably clean house. Of course in typing this in, it means that I'm once again distracted from the job.

I really loved my Gram and was so blessed that she was always right upstairs. Hopefully she'll be with me as I continue this archaeology dig in her home. This was written on December 27, 1983. I was in Bukavu, Zaire (now DRC) in the early days of my in-country Peace Corps training to be a Fish Volunteer. The waves of emotions during my first trip Home to Mama Africa were such blessings.

My Grandmother's Hands

I stare at my hands.
After years of dainty piano,
at last they can more than appreciate
the stories told by the hands:

Of yesterday's slaves
who struggled through a living hell
Building not only the south,
but, in their fight, laid the foundation
for us, their future.

Of today's African women
who from sun up to well past dark-
work fields, cook food, carry water, clean clothes,
march miles with incredible weight balanced so carefully on their heads,
often with infants strapped to their backs.

And of my Grandmother's Hands
Paled and wrinkled, calloused and firm.
The story of personal struggle and a pride,
comparable to no other.

Those hands, which washed windows and scrubbed floors,
show the strength of generations.
And to those hands, the generations to come owe everything.

For in her fight, head always held high,
My Grandmother, bowing to no one but her God,
built and taught our family
to care, to love, and to be proud.

My hands sense the trials of yesterday's slaves and today's African women,
but it is my heart that holds everlasting love and respect for
My Grandmother
whose hands have held me close
and guided my way.

Gram (1/20/1905 SC - 12/6/2006 NY) and me 1988

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Look to This Shore

This isn't genealogy - it's greater than genealogy, it's the call of ancestral echoes that rest deep inside. One third of the African DNA coursing through my being is Nigerian. I have very strong emotions, love and disappointment, with my ancestral home. The school girls, kidnapped by Boko Haram over three months ago, have not been freed. Even when I lived there in 1989-90, I could feel the wahala. I also want Nigeria to rise up to its role as an international leader as Chinua Achebe wrote in The Trouble with Nigeria:
I believe that Nigeria is a Nation favored by Providence. I believe there are individuals as well as nations who, on a account of peculiar gifts and circumstances, are commandeered by history to facilitate mankind's advancement. Nigeria is such a nation. The vast human and material wealth with which she is endowed bestows on her a role in Africa and the world which no one else in the world can assume or fulfill. The fear that should nightly haunt our leaders (but does not) is that they may have already betrayed irretrievably Nigeria's high destiny.... We have lost the twentieth century; are we bent on seeing that our children lose the twenty-first? God forbid! (1983)
I wrote Look to this Shore in the Fall of 1989 from the inspiration of J. DeWitt Webster when we were interns for Africare in Nigeria. DeWitt's excitement of returning home for the first time and his love of Nigeria sparkled through his whole person! We had been selected as among the second group of James H. Robinson Fellows through a program sponsored by Operation Crossroads Africa, Inc., the Ford Foundation, and various NGOs that was designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities working in international development. I'm glad I came across a copy of the poem because it reminds me to hold onto hope - hope for the Chibok school girls, hope for Nigeria, hope for a peaceful settlement for Palestinians among their Jewish cousins, hope for children living in unbelievable situations from Buffalo to all parts of the world.

Look to this Shore

Stepping into the sand of the other side.
Flooded with memories that cannot be mine.
Yet they are of me, through me, all that I am.

How often was someone's last act
to grab a handful of this sand,
a handful of home?

Have you on the other side
ever stared across the sea?
Longing to know the lives of the water-washed bones;
Longing to know our ancestral homes?

Look at the Blackness of the world.
Proudly stand and be counted in the history.
Look inside yourself.
You are the child of a history of pride and perseverance.

Look to this shore my children.
Dive into this knowledge.
Rediscover the pride of self-knowledge
Which flows in other Black faces.

Come to a land of fortitude.
So many of the strongest were taken.
Know that we are because they were.

Are you a living legacy to their standards?
Do you still respect yourself?
Do you have a spirit that cannot be broken?

If not,
go to the shore,
stare across the sea,
seek that unbreakable spirit.

Seek the wisdom of people who created civilization,
perfected medical arts, and lived in harmony with nature.
Let that wisdom be the cornerstone of your knowledge.

The spirit of our ancestors
whose centuries-old fight for survival
will come to you.
Let that spirit be your strength.

As their descendants, we fight today.
Called to resist genocidal apples
tossed on our paths each day.
This war is for survival.

Our ancestors knew themselves.
Putting their lives into the Creator's hands,
they did what had to be done to protect their children.

Stare across that sea.
Think of how Africa was raped.
Stare at yourself.
Know that your ancestors fought to survive.

Stare into yourself.
Be filled with the heritage
that centuries of abuse
have not crushed.

Now vow that in the centuries to come,
your children will have that spirit.
Vow that it will not be crushed.

Hold a handful of sand.
Stare across the sea.
Look to this shore.
Step, assuredly, into reality.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mommy!

On February 20, 2014 Mom turned 90 years old. This was an incredible blessing that could have only been topped by the physical presence of our ancestors who remain so close to us, in our hearts only a thought away. 

Mom loves being with her great grandsons:
David, Gabriel, & Christian
We actually started celebrating at church on the 16th. This was a good place to begin since 42 years ago none of us were sure that she would live another year. She was so sick with bile coursing through her jaundiced body from a bile duct sealed and damaged by adhesions, that the surgeons weren't sure that they could repair it. 

First Cousins: Inez, Dorothy, and Georgie.
1c1r Little Edward in the back.
She was so sick that she had Dad give me the womanhood talk while she sat by to help out if needed. She didn't think she'd be alive when the time came. She was so sick that it wasn't until years later that Gram, Dad, and I would admit that we cried ourselves to sleep in separate bedrooms because we were trying to be strong for each other - even as Mom did the same in her hospital bed. Our own Easter Sunday, 41 years ago Mom was brought out of intensive care following the last attempt they could make. The doctors kept the drainage tube in for over 6 months so the duct wouldn't reseal. So celebrating her 90th Birthday, we can only thank the Great Physician and his human instruments for bringing us to this time.

We don't intend to stop celebrating. We had a great time at the Soweto Gospel Choir concert and this summer she will have her Birthday Backyard Cookout. She has mentioned so often how much she misses those family gettogethers. 
As an only child, Mom's Aunt Sylvia was a second mother
and Aunt Sylvia's descendants are more like siblings and nieces.

We are blessed because Mom continues to be vibrant, on-the-go, and stubborn (Yesterday our first nice day over 50 degrees she put out the garbage and recycling), true to our Lee heritage stubborn! So, since Gram made it to 101, I've told her that I expect her to make it to 102! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

They Were Smiling, too.

Sylvia Lee Easley
15 Feb. 1903 SC - 3 July 2004 NY
For weeks I've been asking my ancestors what they would send to me for the AAGSAR Blogfest. I kept smiling as I thought about Aunt Sylvia and Gram. Those sisters could fuss, but never really stayed mad at each other. They embodied the stubborn nature of the Lees, and that feisty nature isn't such a bad thing. I think if Gram had kept arguing with "Aunt Sivey" a bit more, it might have staved off the Alzheimer's. Throughout this Christmas season, the sisters probably have been going and back and forth over this and that up in Heaven, just to make sure their descendants down here were laughing and smiling together. I think they were smiling, too.

Lucille Lee Stokes
20 Jan. 1905 SC - 6 Dec. 2006 NY
The two sisters were just about inseparable here on earth. They both fibbed about their ages, but I'm reasonably sure of 1903 and 1905. They were the babies, the youngest of 10 known and named. Gram thought her Mom might have had a set of triplets who didn't live, but we don't have any proof. Their mom, Grandma Leah Foote Lee passed in 1908 and their Dad, Grandpa David Lee in 1911. Raised by their older siblings, Uncle General and Aunt Georgie, they were tough, proud women. Aunt Sylvia and Uncle General moved to Buffalo in 1923. Aunt Sylvia married Uncle Ernest Easley in 1924, and Gram moved up to Buffalo with Mom that same year. Of course they lived together, or down the street, or a few blocks away from each other throughout their lives. Many friends and family members have stories of coaxing 90+ year old independently stubborn Gram into the car as they found her walking up the hill on West Ferry, going to see her "little sister" in the nursing home. They spent just about one hundred years together on this earth.

Mom is Gram's only child, but her first cousins Mary, Ernest, Dorothy, Edward, Eleanor, David, and Lucille Easley were her sisters and brothers. She was living with them on the 1925 NYS census and the 1930 Federal census. After church this Christmas Eve, Mom and I ran by Cousin Dorothy's. They're the only two remaining. For three hours we sat laughing as they talked about the old times. I heard some stories for the first time, and still feel a twinge pulling at my heart strings for the stories I've missed because those who knew them best are already in Heaven.

Oh they had me rolling. Christmas 1950 and Aunt Sylvia is cooking dinner. Cousin Mary calls Cousin Dorothy into the bathroom, exclaiming that something is definitely wrong. "See, they didn't tell us anything about babies," Cousin Dorothy tells me. "I look down and tell Mary, That's a head! Close your legs! I run out and tell Momma that she needs to take Mary to the hospital because the babies are coming." Aunt Sylvia told them that Cousin Mary couldn't have the twins because she was cooking dinner. Of course, Gram had to chime in, telling her to shut up and take Cousin Mary on to the hospital. She would finish the dinner. I'll bet that set off a fussing period between the two. Mom and Cousin Dorothy laughed about Gram's biscuits. Imagine, remembering biscuits some 60+ years later! Aunt Sylvia's kids liked flat biscuits, but Gram made big fluffy biscuits. Cousin Dorothy had to "pull out the cotton in Aunt Lucille's biscuits." Yes Mom, I, too, wish Keith and Zion's mom, Cousin Eleanor had written the stories. Gram, Aunt Sylvia, and all the rest of the Easley kids were probably smiling, too.

Lucille Easley
29 Jan. 1934 - 5 Feb. 2002
New Years Eve afternoon brought Little Edward and his daughter Megan over to sit and chat. Each time Mom sees Megan, she exclaims, "Oh you look just like your grandmother Lucille. You know she was named after my mother." So fun to sit and laugh and create new memories as Mom recalls stories of downed Christmas trees at lively family parties of days gone by - days long before Megan, Edward, or I were born!

Georgie Stokes Walker & Danica
Habari gani? Imani. Mom and I went over to Keith and Antoniette's to celebrate the last day of Kwanzaa. Faith in our God, our family's past, and in its future. There, Mom held Danica. That initial wave of tears welled up and subsided because Lee women don't often let them fall. But in that moment, I could feel her wish that they were with us, celebrating. I'm sure Cousin Eleanor was smiling down at her granddaughter, Jackie, a beautiful new mother, and her precious great granddaughter. 

Jade, Adia, Alicia,
Maya, Asma
Hope and happiness rang strong as I watched the children of our extended family teach us of the Nguzo Saba. I'm sure that Cousin Mary, Mom's closest age-mate sister-cousin, watched and smiled down on her daughter Sylvia, granddaughters Adia and Asma, and great-grands, Maya, Alicia, and Jade. I know Gram and Aunt Sylvia had to smile as Danica, and sister-cousins Jackie and Asma spoke and lit the candle for Imani.

Asma, Jackie, Danica, &

And so we usher in a New Year. Sometimes, our ancestors just may be nudging us to tell a story as it is happening, just as Luckie Daniels has nudged us to take our research to the net through blogging. 

In about a hundred years, may the family historians of our African American Genealogy and Slave Ancestral Research Community savor the juices of the sweet stories we found of the past and shared of our present. Welcome to the "New Kids on the Blog." 

If we leave them this record, I'm sure they will be smiling, too.

One Love,