This is your great granddaughter.
We have never met. But
I wish you were here
To tell me firsthand all the old stories
like the one Big Mama told me of how Great Grandpa’s brimmed hat
might come flying out of the open-screened door when you two argued
Or about how Big Mama, your curious daughter, got drunk on cigars
delivering them from her uncle’s house to Great Grandpa, Hartrue, her dad
There are simply too few stories
What did your mother, my great-great grandmother, mean naming you
America? Did she think perhaps with that name one day you might
own the cattle instead of being owned?
Did you get teased about your name at school or did you stand up tall?
Did you even go to school - working in the fields instead?
Did you daydream while you worked in the fields hunched over at the
waist pulling life and a living from the earth?
Did you wish yourself away? Was the farm your castle or was it your
prison? Even so,
I imagine you in the house beating batter or slamming dough
against the kitchen table
What was it like when you stood up for yourself?
Did my mother see you and did you pass that fierceness on to her?
My mother was quick to forward march double time to an argument,
I’ll tell you…in her that fierceness wasn’t hidden, like the time, so I hear,
she almost got into a fist fight with a man on the bus. Was it the
same with you?
I saw a picture of you once
You looked young and haughty with your chin pushed up in the air. You
with your slanting dark eyes, high cheek bones and bright skin, hair
wrapped in a cloth
You had a pride about you that was evident even in a crinkled, black
and white photograph.
Did that pride see you through the harsh Texas summers and the cold
winters without central heating?
I imagine that pride made you strong in an era where strength could
get you lynched. Could that strength see you through to more
strength? What did you see? What did you endure?
It is left to my imagination with both you and Great Grandpa Hartrue
What would you say to me, now, when I have so much…artifice?
I never knew the land and the soil, and these days we disdain the fight
for a scrap to gratefully win two scraps, we’ve forgotten the elemental
toil where recycling happens every day— paper being used to curl black
hair, emptied feed sacks being pressed and made into skirts, or scraps
of aluminum winning a war.
Great Grandma America, I imagine the only thing you and your
generation couldn’t fight was time.
You fell before we could meet, and I mourn the loss. I mourn the loss
of the story of how I came to be in this place, the story of how we all
came to be in this place.
If you could reach out and pass through time, what would you say to
me, America Shepherd Booker?
I imagine you fought for freedom in Giddings, Texas, the town you
never left. The farm you left behind. You fought for every grain of dirt
dug down deep through your hands. You fought.
Jewel Laverne Davis, your granddaughter, my mother, fought so hard
for so long. Her granddaughter, Melonie Jewel Carson, Ruby Booker
Davis’ great-granddaughter,your great-great granddaughter, yes, that
Melonie Jewel Carson, fights at the Texas University where you couldn’t
have gone to college but could have swept their floors. She fights to
build a foundation for herself on those once all-white floors (until in
1950 Heman Sweatt broke the color barrier.) Now, she learns her art
and studies the African Diaspora as a new millennial.
Through her I know you have not truly left, Great Grandma. Still, I ask,
be with us.
Keep fighting to bring us to fruition be it in a long-lost journal found, a
forgotten tall tale spoken, or a dream fulfilled. We are here. We are
fighting to hear your stories, America. We are fighting to create ours.