I was once told by my then pastor’s wife, Sis. Jackie Cushman, that I seemed to be a blessed child. I agree. I was blessed because not only did I grow up with my birth mother, who my aunt Marguerite called, bigger than life, but both of my grandmother’s were there to feed into my life.
Effie Shaw was my mother’s mother, and she was a special piece of work who went through a lot. She was married to Grandpa Shaw who was a Methodist preacher and, from what I understand, a scoundrel who gave my grandma a rough time. Grandma Shaw birthed 10 children and raised 9 after one son died. Eva Hopkins was my dad’s mother and was also the mother of my five aunts, all of whom I remember as being great cooks and also blessed with entrepreneurial spirits.
Both Eva and Effie were from my hometown in Oklahoma (Altus), but both ended up in California. Effie was the mother of my four uncles who like my aunts had entrepreneurial spirits. They all, at some point, had janitorial businesses or shoe shine stands. They were a source of employment for me, in addition to my work at my mother’s store.
The memories are sparse. I should have taken notes to share with my children about their great grandparents. Grandma Shaw at some point owned a house that had a peach orchard. I remember arriving in California and she was already there. We spent a night at her house where I slept in a bed that was next to an unfinished wall, I remember it, because I remember rolling over and getting stuck by a nail. At least she had a house. She babysat for me when I was a child, and then when my oldest son Joseph (Yusef) came, she took care of him.
Grandma Hopkins (“Big Mama” as we called her) was widowed when my father’s father died. My father was only eight years old. The family story was that she had five girls and they all picked cotton and worked as maids. They grew up and one built a lucrative cosmetology business in Los Angeles. When my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, I studied at her beauty shop on Sundays when the shop was closed.
Big Mama was known for taking care of her chickens. She lived into her 90’s and passed when her diabetes reached such a stage that one of her legs was amputated. Family dinners were always at Big Mama’s house. My sister lived with her for a while when she moved from Bakersfield to Los Angeles. Ruthie and I moved nearby, and Big Mama who took her turn taking care of our son Yusef when he was 2 years old.
She lived long enough to see her Grandchildren grow up to become teachers, a College Professor and a Lawyer. She also lived to see all of her Hopkins grandchildren, marry and produce a family to be proud of.
I can only say like the Pastor’s wife said years ago, I’ve been blessed and continue to be blessed with the greatest, sweetest and smartest wife, mother-in-law, grandmother, and great-grandmother there is. Happy Mother’s Day!