I never realized until I sat to write this piece how much prayer has been a significant part of my family’s heritage, or how much it influenced my current relationship with God. At thirteen I met my father’s people for the first time. I knew nothing about Alabama other than the story mom shared about her first- and only- time down there sporting an Afro and mini dress. Apparently, my father’s mother and her sister almost fainted when they saw her legs and the “condition” of her hair.
My father’s people went to church regularly. When you walked in all heads looked up with loud smiles as they greeted you in a harmonious chorus, “How’d you do Miss Annabelle?” How‘d you do child? My grandmother made sure I said hello to each one properly. Some women wore white with white gloves and white hats with veils. Many wore fancy dresses as Billie Holiday did. Little girls (like me) wore dresses with ruffles and matching ribbons and bows. Church with his mother was always orchestrated. The night before she‘d instruct her daughter to press and curl my hair -I never knew you could heat up a metal comb, add some pomade, and iron your hair flat. Aunt Laverne had to heat the comb just right- too hot your hair would burn off. Then she heated up this curling tool, clickity click, and volià, I’d have these ringlets. They called me “Shirley Temple” (secretly, this city-tom girl loved all the pruning and attention). For the first time ever I had white hair, it felt beautiful!
Mom and Pops stayed married three years; in reality, he left the minute he said I do. Mom raised me. She grew up Catholic. We grew up with stories of scary Nuns, beatings at school, and beatings at home. Once eighteen, she ran away and vowed never to return. We went to church during the holidays. I rarely saw her pray. I remember we were Buddhists for a time. Mother practiced for a couple of years -I loved chanting. At ten I decided to chant for a real birthday party with real presents. That year my eleventh birthday party actually happened, complete with friends, presents, and a cake just for me. I was convinced my prayers were answered.
Grandma Mais lived in the Bronx. She raised my mother. She rose each morning at five and sat in the front room, sipping her tea, quietly reading her Bible with her Rosary Beads. Her prayers were quiet and private. She never talked with me about God. In the South, I experienced prayers as hymns, emotional, out load, and learned praying was collective too. You could pray with someone, over someone, for someone, and for those who had passed on. I now understand my bones come from a long line of women who pray, and who prayed for me. Today I am the grandmother, the Sage. It’s my turn to share the power of prayer and to pray it forward for the next generations.