Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Legacy of Mae Phillips

Mama Mae

Her name is Mae Phillips but I call her Mama Mae. She's 96 years old and barely weighs 100 pounds but I still am in awe of this woman who is my grandmother.

While in Ocho Rios, Jamaica last week to celebrate my __ birthday and 3rd wedding anniversary I made the trek to Kingston - the capital of Jamaica - to spend the day with Mama Mae because at 96 years of age, well, you just never know ...

Despite the terrible road conditions, the ride was easy and the length of the trip seemed shortened because the driver I had hired was personable depsite his strong political views on the declining state of his country. The weather was in our favor - no rain in sight - but I still entered Kingston with a heavy feeling in my stomach.

Kingston is a world unto itself and hard to describe to anyone who has never been. The high crime rate and increasing levels of poverty are bad enough, but add in the heat (that most days is unbearable enough to be described as smothering) and the congestion (that could make the most social of people feel like a claustrophobic weenie) and you've got less than a tourist attraction. Yes, it is steeped in culture and history and is the location where Bob Marley recorded some of his best stuff, but to ME it's about as close to hell as you can get.

BUT Kingston is where my grandmother lives and for whatever reason the need to see her on this visit was so strong, I would have dueled with the devil himself if he had tried to keep me from going.

I think she felt the same way; she began crying when she heard my voice and hailed my visit as a sign. I didn't understand the gravity of her statement considering this is the same woman who for the past five years has described the Thanksgiving holiday as her last supper but as the day wore on - and got hotter - I knew our time spent together was indeed special.

For four hours she talked about her favorite memories of me. The long summers that she stayed with my family, teaching me to bake plantain tarts, beef patties and coconut cookies. How she kept my mother from knocking me out (too many times to count) when my mouth was at its smartest. How she thought I would put her on a plane back to Kingston when she accidentally let my dog escape from the house and how hurt I'd be when my cousin David would come for the summer because my daddy's attention would inevitably be taken away from me. She spoke in amazing detail about the summer trips we took in the family station wagon, criss-crossing the United States and Canada. She was the reason I got married in Jamaica, her traveling days long since gone and I couldn't imagine taking my vows without her. I cried tears of joy when she pressed a hanky in my hand and told me I looked fat in my wedding dress.

But then she also told me that she was proud of the woman that I had become.

The more she talked, the more I laughed, realizing how many of my best childhood memories are shared with her. I also realized how large of a hand she's had in shaping who I am today and I realized how very much I love her.

And Kingston. Because it is my heritage. It is the place where my grandmother taught me to wash clothes by hand, how to pick ackee then sautee it with saltfish. Kingston is where I learned how to properly suck my teeth and say "me soon come" in a proper Jamaican accent and eat Mangoes right from the tree.

Yes, I am the legacy of Mae Phillps. But I call her Mama Mae and she is my grandmother.


  1. If this isn't the most loving thing I've read to date, I don't know what is. :) This seriously made my day.

  2. Nikki,
    I can see the love pouring through that you share with your grandmother. You write so fluidly. I can't wait to delve into your novel(s). Much success to you.

    Love & Peace,
    Vanessa A. Johnson, Author
    When Death Comes a Knockin',
    A Self-Help, Inspirational Book About Loss and Grief.

  3. Awww. That was beautiful!

  4. This is beautiful. You are fortunate to have her in your life.

  5. This really was touching. It is amazing how going to a place that sometimes you don't feel good about can make you really realize how much you love the place, the loving relatives and the lessons learned. Looking back on my life, you were a big part of some lessons I have learned and also just some good ol' happy memories.
    Love you.