Part I: Learning About Learning From My Ancestors — Mama

I’m rather fixated on learning. Actually, I don’t think I’m fixated; rather, I think that learning is just an inherent part of me. An inherent part that is inherited. Here is the beginning of my history, and you’ll soon see why learning is so important to me.

The writing is choppy, and sometimes disjointed. I wanted to get the feelings and words down, and to convey the emotion that I feel. If I were speaking aloud about Mama, Grandma, and Mom, I wouldn’t be polished and flowing. And I won’t be here either.

This is my story of Mama, my great-grandmother. I wish I could have met her.


My great-grandparents -- Mama and Papa

This is my great-grandmother. I never met her, but I know Mama from stories my mom and grandma told me about her. She was 16 when my grandmother was born – I don’t think she ever graduated high-school. She didn’t know what it meant to give birth; when she was in labor she was told to go out to the cabbage patch to find her baby. Since she had three children, I guess she learned!

Mama and Papa never had much money or education by today’s standards — I think Papa graduated from high-school here in Chicago (Wendell Phillips High School which later became DuSable High School). In fact,  we believe they were both here in Chicago by no later than 1900. I feel so much closer to them now that I’ve moved here too. There is a street preacher who preaches every day on the corner of State and Washington in downtown Chicago (click here to see what he looks like). I told my mom about him, and that’s when I learned that one of Mama’s or Papa’s relatives did the same thing…100 years ago.

Mama was smart, and curious, and always learning and interested in new things. She had a telephone before anyone else in their neighborhood. She had a radio, and others would come over to listen to boxing, news, the war (WW II) and programs. She also traveled to women’s conventions with speakers such as Eleanor Roosevelt. I think it was with Mama that our phrase, “you’re never to old to learn” came about. Although at first she couldn’t vote, Mama was fervent about politics, and kept learning all she could about her world to better understand the speeches and intent behind them. Towards the end of her life she suffered a stroke and wasn’t as mobile, but passed her love of learning on to her daughter and grand-daughter.

I wish I could have met her. I have to think she would be proud to know how much of her lives on in her grand-daughter and great-granddaughter (and daughter when she was alive).

Miller/Murphy house in Idlewild, Michigan. Built by my great-grandfather and grandfather

My grandfather and great-grandfather moved the family from Chicago to Idelwild, Michigan in the 40s. In order to earn money, the men worked in Grand Rapids during the week (Grandma went with them), and came home on the weekends. By that time, Mama had had her stroke, and had to stay in Idlewild. My mom stayed behind with Mama in a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. She faced down little to no food and loneliness and learned to eat snake, squirrel or whatever meat Grandpa could bring home. Mom told me that before biting into it, they would have to search for buckshot. I cannot imagine moving from the South Side of Chicago to this small community with no electricity, running water, or even street lights. Yet Mama did, with no complaints, and learned what she needed in order to survive. I’ve thought about it, and don’t know if I would be that strong.

Papa wasn’t always a nice man. He drank – a lot. And apparently he was a mean drunk. Yet Mama stayed with him, and still found ways to thrive. To me, that is the essence of learning. To always grow, even if the constraints around you are bound so tightly it seems impossible to break them. Yet that is what Mama did. She broke the constraints of being a poor black woman with little education to become an inspiration to generations of her family.

Mama believed in God, family, and learning – probably in that order. Based on what my my mom and grandma told me, she is a person I should strive to be worthy of, and to emulate. She is no longer physically here, but her spirit lives in me thanks to mom and grandma. I wish I could have met her.  I have two shirts that belonged to her, and when I was much thinner I wore them. The shirts hang in my closet wherever I move, and provide a physical connection with Mama. I wish I could have met her and told her how much she means to me.

About Tricia Ransom

Patricia Ransom: wife, daughter, friend. Learning, laughing, living. Chicago, Illinois, downstate. Townie, urbanite, traveller. Note: The opinions expressed on this blog belong solely to me and should not be assumed to reflect the opinions of any of my employers past, current, or future.
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