By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
My niece Brandi was married on October 26 last year and she and her husband are expecting their first child in late December.
Brandi is my sister Carol’s only “girl child” of her five children. As we celebrated Brandi’s impending delivery during her baby shower on October 19, I thought about my female relatives who came before us. During the festivities, the excitement of playing those baby shower games and connecting with family and friends, I wandered down memory lane remembering our female ancestors and elders who have gone through the ritual of bringing new life into the world.
In the hurly burly of 21st century North American life it is not too often that we get together/gather outside of holidays. The last time we did so was for my sister April’s birthday at the end of April.
Here was my niece Brandi born barely more than two decades ago and she was becoming a mother. It seems like only yesterday my sister got her dearest wish when her daughter was born. Carol had longed for a girl after all the boys. Brandi brought much joy and laughter into not only her parents’ lives but those of the entire family living in Canada. She was the second girl (my daughter Raine was the first) in our family born in this new land to which we had immigrated beginning in the 1970s.
Brandi is a loving aunt, cousin, daughter, sister and niece always with a ready laugh, smile and hugs. As a child she was famous for her hugs especially her enthusiastic hugs of younger children/babies. Her baby will be well loved and hugged.
Like many Africans in the diaspora I can barely trace my ancestry back more than four generations. However the rich history of storytelling in my family has helped to piece some of that history together. The furthest back I can go is to my paternal great grandfather Kelly Murphy Jonas and my maternal great grandmother Lydia Bennett. Kelly Murphy Jonas transitioned before I was born. I do not remember my maternal great grandmother Lydia who transitioned when I was 11 months old but I have been told that I was very curious about her as she rested before her last journey. As a curious 11-month-old who had just learned to walk, I was reportedly constantly wandering into her room to engage her in conversation which she did not seem interested in reciprocating. She was probably thinking about her youth, her adult life and where she was going next and had no interest in engaging in conversation with someone whose language skills was just developing. I was told that once in my enthusiasm to communicate I bit one of her fingers and she complained loudly.
These are stories that were told when the family gathered but since I was only 11 months old at the time, not aware and have no memory of doing so, I deny all knowledge of ever trying to communicate by biting my great grandmother. I was probably just trying to get some reaction/attention or trying to commiserate with the only other person in the house who was not up and about constantly. I was the only child in the house and had no one else to play with so I blame the adults who were supposed to be vigilant about facilitating the best relationship between the oldest and youngest members of the family.
My great grandmother Lydia was a young widow with two small children, my maternal grandmother and her brother Reginald (Uncle Reggie.) She worked to support her children and the stories abounded of her fierce protection of her children, especially her very shy daughter Clarissa (my maternal grandmother.) My grandfather would often relate how much he admired his mother-in-law for her parenting skills. He also related how hard he had to work to gain her acceptance of him as a suitor for her daughter. The lady was very protective of her girl child.
As a child, I felt some pity for my grandmother because she only had one brother and no sisters while I grew up in a home with five brothers and three sisters. My maternal grandparents raised five children, my mother, her two sisters and two brothers. My paternal grandparents raised eight children, my father, his three brothers and four sisters.
My female ancestors/elders have worked alongside their male counterparts in keeping our history alive for generations; however childrearing has been the purview of the women in the family.
There were numerous stories from family and friends of my paternal grandmother Elizabeth and her charitable works in her community helping those less fortunate. My grandmother took care of generations of other people’s children in her village and the surrounding villages.
I admire the women in my family, those present and those who have gone before. I am in awe at what they have survived (slavery, colonization, racism etc.,) and yet kept going to bring us to where we are today. They lived through natural and man-made disasters, wars, illnesses, floods etc. They are/were courageous, admirable, beautiful and determined survivors. They were wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and all the other roles that women play today and over the years of our history.
We all have sheores in our families whether we think of them as such or not. During this Women’s History Month I have been thinking about the women in my family, those who went before us and their influence on our lives today. My niece Brandi whose impending motherhood inspired this piece is many generations and oceans away from the life of our ancestor, Lydia Bennett, who is the oldest ancestor of our collective memory but like all of the women in my family she is imbued with the survival spirit of Lydia Bennett and all who went before her. I know Brandi will be the best mother for her baby and any other children she may be blessed with.
For my niece, Brandi, my daughter Raine, my granddaughters Iiliyah and Kehinde, my sisters, all my female relatives and all the women who are reading this as we recognize Women’s History Month: “We may not be where we want to be yet but we’ve come a long way baby!”