I have been thinking about stories and memories as I move into 2012. So many New Year’s resolutions are about looking forward into the future and breaking the patterns and habits of the past. We seem to have an irrational fear of the past. Our history as Caribbean people has told us all that lies in our past is barbarism – African slaves, European slave-owners, Indian indentured labourers, Chinese bondsmen, Syrian traders and near forgotten Amerindians. The past is death; the past is shame.
I have always known, however, that for me my future lies in my past and that there is much wisdom to be gained in the stories of the women in my line. One of my favourites by Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison is called I am Becoming My Mother:
fingers smelling always of onions
My mother raises rare blooms
and waters them with tea
her birth waters sang like rivers
my mother is now me
My mother had a linen dress
the colour of the sky
and stored lace and damask
to pull shame out of her eye.
I am becoming my mother
fingers smelling always of onions”
“It is hard to write about my own mother.
Whatever I do write, it is my story I am telling,
my version of the past”
Both women, from different cultural and geographical backgrounds echo the same sentiment: our lives are joined with our mothers’ in a cycle of constant becoming and re-becoming.
I know that mother’s story is my own, as my grandmother’s story is hers, as her mother’s was hers. We are an unbreakable, inviolate line of memory. It is more than a line and more like a web, for each story breaks and branches and merges with the threads of the others, until our collective narrative becomes like the rich, brown earthy underside of history.
I have realized that in the end, we all become our mothers, however, I never realized just how important that was. For it is in our symbolic ‘becoming’ of our female ancestors, that we pass on their legacies and become testimonies to their lives and experiences. The stories that are passed down through the generations help to form a chain of history, our history as women. Although we all have had different experiences, the telling and the sharing of these stories makes us all a part of something greater than our individual experiences.
I have been listening to stories about the women and a few men in my family ever since I was a little girl. The telling of stories has always been important to us as a means of entertainment as well as keeping traditions and our history alive. As I grow older, I become their collective voice; a combination of the memories they passed down and the snippets of conversations I picked up over the years. For the last few years however I began systematically collecting these stories and writing them down to document our history.
My next few blog posts will be from a series I am working on called Stories My Mothers Told Me. I will be sharing a few stories of four generations of women in my family- from my great-great grandmother Prudence, her daughter Lily, my grandmother Yolande, and my mother Gale. I hope you will enjoy their stories and mine.
*This series is a reworking and elaboration of an article previously published by on Rootswomen.com
Other posts in this series: