Pieces of Family

 

My grandmother Marva is on the left, my great grandmother 'mother dear' is in the middle, and my great aunt Marion is on the right. They are celebrating new years in Marva's nightclub in Kansas City


Hello fly people out there who take time to read my blog! I am sorry that the posts have been somewhat sporadic this summer. There have been a lot of transitions that have been challenging at times, but also magical and ultimately beautiful and grounding. However, this path of self-discovery has lead me away from the world of the internet, but as things have started to settle down expect more revolutionary theory/analysis, cultural tidbits, poetry, and funkiness to be coming your way. Going along with this theme of  self/truth, I wanted to share a recent conversation I had with my grandmother, as well as some photographs of my family that  I recently received from my uncle. This summer has been met with a lot of reconnecting with family and myself.  Something that I think a lot of folks living in this oppressive world can relate to. Capitalism and colonialism destroys human beings organic connection to themselves and their communities. We are forced to work for the rich in order to pay them for our shelter, food, clothing and other means of survival. We are not working for the survival and reproduction of our community, which would facilitate an organic connection to each other; we are working for the reproduction of capital and profit. On top of that the conditions keep us down, pitted against each other, and tired from work. We are not taught how to have healthy, loving fulfilling relationships with each other, because that doesn’t matter to the rich ruling class, who run society in their own interests. They actually would rather have us oppressing and fighting each other, because that makes revolution harder. If we are to rebuild our communities and relationships within these conditions it takes real intentional work that isn’t easy, but very necessary. I am trying to rebuild with my family and here is a glimpse into some of that work.

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My grandmother called me today from Kansas. It was the first time I felt present all day. She said,

‘baby you wanna hear your grandfathers solo? Im listening to his music.”

I laughed. ‘yes I would love to’.

She pauses to go put the record back in the right spot. She puts the phone next to it and I begin to hear the music. The connection isn’t the cleanest, but suddenly I hear the blare of my great grandfathers alto saxophone. He had this aggressive style that was very reflective of the Kansas city Bop jazz genre. After a few minutes she gets back on the phone.

‘Daddy sure could jam.’

‘He sure could.’

She goes on,

‘He loved his music, That was his life, but he never left Kansas. Cab Calloway wanted him to come to New York to play in his band, but he wouldn’t go. He wouldn’t go anywhere that didn’t allow him to come home to his wife and kids every morning.’

My great grandfather is in the middle playing saxophone and my great uncle Woody is behind him playing clarinet

I smile at this fact pleased to know that some fathers stay true to their commitments with love. I like thinking of my grandmother as a little girl. It helps me to humanize her; to release some of the disappointment i have carried these years when she has neglected me as her granddaughter. We often place expectations on people, who are suppose to represent certain roles in your life. She is my grandmother, but she is also an 85 year old Black woman who has grown up in this world, and whose great grandparents were slaves. It is important to me to be reminded of these things.

She pauses then starts again. I can hear the emotion in her voice as it breaks a little bit,

‘you know its been twenty years since daddy died.’

‘I know’,

I was six, but I remember. I never met my great grandfather, but was fascinated by him. It was difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I was never going to meet him. I remember my father got some of his old clothes and I would play dress up with them; pretend I was a jazz musician too. It helped me connect with him and my family in my own way.

She continues,

‘Every once in awhile I like to bring out his music and listen to him play. Some of his recordings begin with him introducing the band. I like to hear his voice. I miss him so much. He was such a charismatic man baby. Everyone loved him.’

I begin to cry, because I know. I never met him, but I have loved him deeply all my life. I always related to him. Felt his energy in my own. He inspired me at a young age, and I have carried that inspiration with me my entire life. She goes on to tell me more stories about my grandfather and the book she is writing about his life and her life. I tell her that she inspires me and that I want to help her finish her story. She tells me I will. She also says that I can have the old photographs that I have wanted since I was a girl. Some of which are shown below. We cry together one last time and say our goodbyes.

My grandfather in the newspaper

I am grateful for my grandmothers call and the stories and emotion she shared. I want to help her complete the book. Her story is my story. I always felt that If I could learn the family secrets and archive the history I could understand myself better. I was always hungry for the knowledge. I felt like my family was so fascinating and had all this potential (some realized, some not) to make history. I wanted to be a part of that history; I wanted to live up to my families potential and continue their legacy. I saw my father waste all of his potential and talents in drugs, booze and women. We all have potential. We all have talent and magic that we often don’t get to develop, because this system does not grant us the time or the resources. I am learning from my own failures and failures of my elders so that I may walk down this path with wisdom and acceptance of it all. In order to accomplish this though you need to have an understanding of you history and relationships with your elders is almost necessary to obtain that information. It was difficult for me, because I felt a lot of protectiveness from my grandmother. She would tell me and show me some things, but only a little bit. She was always careful about the information she shared. She also never gave me anything except for a porcelain figurine when I was 10 years old that belonged to my great grandmother, who I am named after. I have treasured this artifact for 16 years now. This frustrated me so much as a kid. I was always searching for who I was; my history; my families history; my ancestors history. When you are mixed race, as I am, your identity creates much confusion for yourself and the world around you. We live in a system that loves clean categories and boxes, but the reality is is this world is built out of contradictions. A glaring contradiction to me is the notion that capitalism is freedom. We are supposedly free, yet we must struggle to pay for the basic necessities of life, while fearing the violence of the systems agents (pigs), who kill us for being queer, being a women, being ‘of color’, being too broke to pay the ever rising bus fare. When you are mixed you are able to see through some of these contradictions, because you live it. It definitely instilled in me a distrust or at least questioning of the government from an early age.

I hadn’t spoken to my grandmother for seven years until recently. My father and I had a falling out when I was 19 that disconnected me from him and that whole side of my family. Six months ago I begin to feel a strong push inside to reconnect; it almost felt like a message from my ancestors. As I became more grounded and trusting of my own intuition I began to craft plans with a close friend to drive to Kansas and look for my grandmother. A few days after sharing these plans with my mother I got a call from her saying that my grandma called looking for me. I felt so much emotion from this news. It affirmed to me that we both need each other right now to help finish the work we know needs to get done. We have only been talking for a few months, but It feels different now. Closer. She is letting me in, and this recent phone conversation really demonstrated that for me. My heart and brain sit heavy in my body. Not from sadness, but from tremendous amounts of love and inspiration. My conversation with my grandmother was more than just a sentimental moment. It was an affirmation from her that the time is right for me to be let in on certain secrets and stories. Family history can be difficult to unearth. However, the times are shifting; energy is shifting. And I am ready for changes that go beyond myself.

My great grandfather 'Daddy Herman' and his beloved alto saxophone

 

A early photograph of my grandmother Marva

Another newspaper clipping of my grandfather

A photograph of my grandmother posing with her band name 'Marva and the Satelites'

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments on “Pieces of Family”

  1. kloncke says:

    Sending you love and appreciation as you reconnect with your family! Sounds difficult but richly rewarding and powerful. Much metta (good wishes). ❤


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