On your 19th birthday you stood in your soon-to-be mother-in-law’s pearl white living room in front of the pastor and a small crowd of family and friends. All were assembled around her white couch and loveseat, trimmed in red with their skin hot and sticky, molded to the plastic that covered the furniture. Some stood, afraid to step off of the rubber floor runner that covered the white carpet. There weren’t any musicians – just a lone record player in the corner and the heckle and laughter of your future brother and sister-in-laws.
Since it was December, and soul food is always on the menu, I imagine that chitterlings and greens were cooking on the stove along with fried chicken being kept warm in the oven. Some of the family and friends were there for a good meal. But not you. I looked at your picture from your wedding day, and even though it was over 45 years ago, I could see the love in your eyes. You literally had nothing; no place to live and a GED, but for you love was enough. You made a vow, exchanged rings, and sealed the ceremony with a kiss. On December 10, 1971, you became Mrs. Donna Jeffery.
My brother, Tony, was in his pumpkin seat. He was still a baby. I would make my appearance a year and a half later. Did you know then that every wish you had for me would come true? That as you and my father made a commitment to each other, you were actually leaving a legacy for me?
Every time you gave me an allowance, took me to the bookstore, and let me buy the books I wanted, you were planting seeds. You would always say, “My children will be readers. You know why? Because white people say if you want to keep something from a black man, put it in a book.” I didn’t like the idea of someone hiding something from me. So, I read everything I could. I became a phenomenal reader, the best in my class and my school. You won’t believe this but I became a reading teacher. Momma, not only have your children become readers, but the one hundred plus kids who I have encountered every year for the past 15 years have become better readers because of you.
Not only that, but all the writing you did and those stories you started that you never finished inspired me. I am currently working towards a second Master’s Degree, this one in writing. I am proud to say that I have become a writer. I’m not a super famous, highly sought after writer yet, but in 2013 I proved to myself that I could finish and publish a book. The amazing part? People actually buy my books, read them, and like them.
You always wanted your children to be economically independent of a corporate payroll. Well, I did it. For five years I ran my own fitness studio full-time. I told the story of your struggle with obesity and helped over 11,000 women change their lives through fitness.
I know how you hated to see me struggle as a single mom. You went out of your way to help. Often you bought your grandbabies school clothes, took them to movies and church, and loved them when I grew weary. Well, I got married and come this December we will celebrate our 11th Anniversary. Momma! Now I know exactly what you meant when you said marriage was hard. I thank God everyday that I learned from you how to be a good wife. You taught me so much about honoring God and my husband at the same time. If it weren’t for me watching you and Dad, I would have given up a long time ago.
I think of you often when I look at my children. Breonna, your oldest grandchild, is getting married in two months. She’s the first female child in our family to become a Mrs. before becoming a mom. The generational curse that you prayed about has been broken. Jaylin is going away to college next month. Would you believe she chose a historically black college? That’s something we always wanted. I am proud to say that I am a parent of a future Jackson State University Student.
Joy is your youngest grandchild. She’s only six years old and you didn’t have a chance to meet her. She is so much like you; intelligent and beautiful. She tested into the gifted program at school. Last summer, I took her to New York and now she wants to be a Broadway star. I know it seems cliche and that every girl wants to sing on Broadway, but I believe she’s more than able to access her dreams. Is that something you taught me also?
The moment the decision was made to remove the life support and you failed to breath on your own, I wanted to die with you. Thirteen years later, I see that God had so much more He wanted me to do. This family is doing so well. I believe you talk to Him everyday on our behalf. Although I miss you more than I want to admit, your legacy lives on. I am a better person because you loved me. Everyday, I look for ways to share that love with someone else.