Today is International Women’s Day and I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a woman who had a huge influence on my life.
This is a thank you to my maternal Grandmother O.T.
My maternal Grandmother was born in the early 1900′s. We’re not exactly sure when, since she never acknowledged her true age. At some point she reached 50 years and decided to stay there…and no, we’re not exactly sure when she hit the 50 mark. What I do know is that my mother was born in 1942 and that my Grandmother was in her early 20′s when she gave birth to her…so, that narrows the window a bit to the 19-teens to 1920s.
Math is so not my area.
Anyhoo, we know that my Grandmother was born in Mississippi…one of over eleven children, several of whom died in childhood. She was given the name O.T. at birth…just the initials…and, even though she eventually chose the name Onelia Theresa, she was O.T. in life and remains so in death. She was born poor…in a family whose inheritance was poverty, oppression and want…on a farm in rural Mississippi where the best one could hope for was survival or a swift painless death. Her schooling was separate and unequal…a one room shack, complete with dirt floor and a mostly empty bookshelf…and students were expected to fit finishing home work in between harvest and planting.
Knowing things was a big deal to my Grandmother. She valued knowledge and intelligence the way some folks value a snazzy wardrobe or precious jewels. I asked her about it once…why education meant so much to her…and she stared at me for a long time then said “Water tastes like heaven when you’re dying of thirst and only a fool forgets that heavenly taste once their thirst has been satisfied.”
O.T.’s life was full of “despites” – she graduated from high school despite her inadequate schooling and community apathy…she went to college despite living in a time when lots of folks dropped out after grade school and despite being broke as hell…and she became a teacher despite all the odds.
But my Grandmother’s life was also full of unavoidable realities – she worked hard and long as a domestic to supplement her teaching income after splitting with my Grandfather and bore emotional scars earned while surviving the Jim Crow south…scars that faded reluctantly, slowly but never completely even after she had relocated north.
O.T. went back to college when her grandchildren started going to college…she claimed that we all began to act “uppity” with all that “book learning” and she had to put a stop to that. I have a great picture of her, sporting a graduation cap on top of her prized Tina Turner wig, that still fills my heart with pride and joy (O.T. must have been in her 60′s at the time but Lawd knows she would have scolded anyone who dared to ask.)
The greatest gift my Grandmother gave me was a love for knowledge…a craving for understanding the who, what, when and why of a thing…and an intolerance for intellectually lazy bullshit. She taught me that women’s labor, be it intellectual or physical, has value and that its value doesn’t have a damn thing to do with whether The Man values it or not.
I need not look far for examples of how one woman’s life can impact the lives of others.
Today I celebrate the life of my fantabulous Grand’mere O.T., who left an amazing legacy to her family and friends…a treasure of empowerment, encouragement, great expectations and love of knowledge.
…just like she was.
Happy International Women’s Day.