I didn't take this photo. This is an old photo of my maternal grandmother from an unknown time in the distant past. This is not the grandmother I remember. This is, and this is. This isn't (although I believe someone told me she was 40 when this photo was taken).
It's a bit early to be talking about my grandmother. I usually talk about her on her birthday which is July 26. But this year I have thought about her a lot. She's been dead a long time now and we had no understanding of one another when she was alive, but I've really come to know her in many ways. A lot makes sense to me in a way it didn't.
Today on a whim I went into A Different Booklist. I've been meaning to go in there for quite a while. I'm desperate to find a good book that covers West Indian history. There is a lot I need to understand. But today I went in there because I'm desperate to read something new. I recently picked up Charles Bukowski's "Ham on Rye" and "Post Office"; both books I have read MANY times over. But they don't do much for me now. I have many positive things to say about his writing but to be honest I'm just fucking tired of the same old shit and the same old same old same old. Tired.
By chance I picked out Jamaica Kincaid's "The Autobiography of My Mother". I've only just begun but it seems to be the perfect book for me at this time. There are a lot of similarities. The main character is part Carib, part Scot, and part African. My grandmother was part Carib, part French and part African. The village she mentions in Dominica is where my grandmother is from. There are many other similarities. This review struck me:
"A mother's love or rather the absence or withdrawal or compromise of that love, lies at the heart of Jamaica Kincaid's fierce, incantatory novels... The figure of the mother represents more than the woman who gave them life; she also represents the vanished and enduring past, a connection to earlier generations of women and blacks who endured the indignities of colonial and postcolonial oppression.... Ms. Kincaid conjures up the whole world of Dominica in all its beauty and casual cruelty... a world in which the ghosts of colonialism still haunt the relationships of contemporary women and men."
I have only recently begun to understand these things from my own experiences and where it began... at least as far back as I can trace it which is my great-grandmother. My grandmother Scylla took a lot from me, but one thing she gave me was knowledge of my lineage, my history. When I was a kid she would talk about her life -- well not really talk more like mumble and not really to me but to the air. But what she didn't know was that I was actually listening attentively and taking it all in -- saving it for later.
I recall reading something in a bell hooks book once about the enduring effect that slavery has had in passing a certain type of violence and misery from generation to generation. A certain type of defeat you can only know when there is no hope... When your soul has been crushed and destroyed a thousand times over. At times I can see the continuum... the connection between the women in my family so clearly. The way they have inherited despair and sadness and passed it onward. I can see where it began and I can see how it has changed as it passed between the generations. I can see how fortunate I am to be who I am, so much more able it seems than the women before me to create a very different outcome for myself and to see the world... to see life in a very different way.
And from only a few pages into the book:
"Ma Eunice was not unkind: she treated me just the way she treated her own children -- but this is not to say she was kind to her own children. In a place like this brutality is the only real inheritance and cruelty is sometimes the only thing freely given."