It all started with my sister’s simple text, “What was our great grandmother’s first name?” I didn’t know. I had the answer within 20 minutes; her name was Henrietta, but I fell into to the rabbit hole of the internet. I’m a naturally curious person, on a mission to find out more, and from the comfort my home I searched the archives of two distant states. I was reviewing the 1900 census, and I found the names of three relatives, the expected information was all there, but the education responses stopped me in my tracks. At age twenty, Henrietta was a married woman with a five-year-old child, and she could not read or write. My grandmother Charity always talked about her third-grade education, and I missed the point. My grandmother could read and write, that was a big deal. Her father, also illiterate, was a farmer, a demanding profession, and her mom was a domestic who died at the age of forty-one. My grandmother lived to the age of 91 and was proud of her work in the catering business and her ability to take care of herself.
As you spend time with your family and friends this Mother’s Day, there is so much to appreciate in our family trees. I often feel gratitude for my anonymous relatives for all that they endured for me to live the life I now have, but I realize that I can deepen my practice. Life was hard, and it wasn’t that long ago. One hundred years ago it wasn’t merely an agrarian society. It was a deeply divided time. Our country legally separated folks by gender and race, but we also separated by education and opportunity.
This Mother’s Day I will appreciate my ancestors who lived in a world that shut them out with words. I am thankful for my parents who sat with me and taught me to read before I went to school. I will appreciate the leaders that fought to provide the free public schools for everyone and I will be grateful for the women who continue the struggle for equality.
Happy Mother’s Day!
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