Eternal gratitude to the woman who raised the woman who raised me

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O P I N I O N



“I wish I had paid more attention…listened more to the stories.” I read that over and over from friends as we age and lose those that came before us. I am living that same exact regret now at this moment in history. It’s not that I miss my mom so much as wish I could remember her stories better.

Florence was a great storyteller and being a child of the Depression had lived through some incredible times. But I didn’t understand at the time how significant many of her stories were to the person I eventually became. But in these times of Black Lives Matter, of which I am a proud fierce ally, one story, one character keeps coming back to me, again and again. I’ve never met her, don’t know what she looked like and only know her by name, Fanny. My mother’s beloved nanny, a black woman in Philadelphia who helped my grandmother raise her three kids while she worked. Here’s what I know.

My mom was born in 1925, the only girl and youngest of three kids, Her parents’ marriage didn’t last much longer after that. I know my mom was younger than her two brothers but not sure the age differences. What I do know was that after the divorce my grandmother Coley had to work full time. My mom was little and had a caretaker, her nanny, a black woman named Fanny. I don’t know how Coley came to hire Fanny. I don’t know if Fanny had children of her own. I don’t know how many years Fanny took care of my mom. But I DO know it was one of the happiest times in my mom’s childhood.

She would sing me the songs and tell me the funny stories she learned from Fanny. She told me of the time she got lice in her beautiful curls and her mother, whose family is from Kentucky and had some crazy, wild home remedies, and Fanny, whose background I don’t know, put their heads together and decided to put kerosene on a towel and wrap my Mom’s head in it to the kill the lice. It killed them all right, and my mom’s hair – and nearly killed my mom!

I remember when Disney’s Song of the South was in the movies my mom saying to me, “It’s sad that it isn’t really like that,” and my mom burning with rage during the 1960s Civil Rights movement over the inhumane and murderous treatment of our Americans of color who DARED to march peacefully for a better existence for their children’s children. It was mother’s shock and disgust whenever she saw the flag of treason displayed. To this day I feel true revulsion when I see that hideous rag. I remember having people of all faiths and colors welcome in my mother’s home at all times. I never remember hearing my mother OR father EVER using that awful, disgusting word of hate. Not once in my entire life. I never caught a whiff of racism of any form, nor anti-semitism from either of my parents growing up. When I went through a period in my teens of only listening to black music and only dating black boys the only complaint I heard from either parent was that I was TOO YOUNG. And I was, way too young for a lot of things I did. But here we are.

I take for granted what a gift it is to be raised without prejudice. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be born into a family where it’s not only taught, but celebrated. I am forever grateful to whatever or whoever decided to have me raised by Florence and Paul Cronk. Imperfect hard-working followers of Jesus’ teachings who didn’t twist their kids’ heads and hearts with hate or fear of the unknown.

I am now in my 60s, older than my mother was the first time she told me her Fanny stories. I struggle to remember them and it makes me sad. But I am eternally grateful that my mother, the woman who raised me and imprinted her moral compass onto mine, was raised by her beautiful, beloved Fanny, so that I was raised to believe that Black is Beautiful and Black Lives Matter.

Thank you Fanny. I hope your little Flossie’s spirit found you when she left here. She never, ever, forgot the lessons of love and humanity she learned on your lap. And she passed them on to me as I have tried to do to my own children.

#BlackLivesMatter


About Urban Hippie Irene Martin: I’m a middle-aged tie-dye wearin’, tree-hugging, hippie who is trying to leave the world a little better for having been here.

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