Saturday, May 24, 2008
Tribute To A Family Matriarch
Hello peoples. I haven't blogged in a week or so, I had to fly to Florida for my maternal grandmother's funeral. It seems fitting to start blogging again paying homage to this pioneering, strong Jamaican woman, without whose struggles and life I would not be here writing this.
Sylvia Witter died of old age on May 14th at the age of 95. That in itself seems like a blessing, to die of old age, in a time when so many illnesses take our elders away. She was definitely ready to go though, her body refusing to do the things she would always do for herself way into her 80's and early 90's. When i would ask her how she is doing, she would always respond "i am still here." I would take that as a testimony to her strength, as well as an acknowledgment that she had done her work on this plane.
in the 1940's, Sylvia Witter saved enough money to go to the United States from the parish of St. Elizabeth in rural Jamaica. It was hard for her (and others) to go alone and leave family behind, but she had a vision and ambition. Through doing hard domestic labor and later becoming a nurses assistant in New York City, she established herself as the waystation for other family members to come to the US. She would send for people, and send them money as well. Because of her, at least 50 people thrive and live successful lives here. At her funeral, we gave thanks to her, my sister recalling grandma diluting her tea til it was lukewarm so it wouldn't burn my sister, and my older cousin happily recalling receiving clothes and toys in the mail "from foreign" at Christmas time from my grandmother while he still lived in St. Elizabeth. It was a beautiful service, with dragonflies flitting about while we sang "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art".
Grandma was a stern woman of few words. But she was very generous. She had every reason to be stern though... I cannot imagine what it was like for her to leave Jamaica and come to work in apartheid America. Her struggle echoes the struggle of so many immigrant women of color who worked hard in alienating and often degrading circumstances just to get by, and for the survival of family. It is an honor to come from such an independent, pioneering, strong woman.
Now, this picture is on my ancestor altar, with a lit candle next to it. Please send Sylvia Witter some light and love as she travels. She worked hard, and deserves peace. And while you are at it... might be nice to call out the names of those who worked so hard to get you where you are now too. Those people who are the reason you are even able to sit there reading this.
Rest in Peace, Power and Love Grandma.