Celebrating Norma Jean – 85 6

Mom’s portrait painted by Jewelle Pippins

In 2011, I wrote a post titled, Don’t Change: An Impossible Request of Family.  It seems like it was just yesterday that I wrote this post but, in fact, it was 8 years ago.  I am reminded of the post because earlier this month, I went to St. Louis to celebrate my Mom’s 85th birthday.  It was the best celebration of Mom’s birthday we could have wished for.

The family is mostly unchanged.  How blessed am I, are we?  Despite the notable absences – James and Uncle Richard who’ve passed; my daughter and her clan couldn’t come because  two were entering their first year of college in two different states; and another cousin and her family whose absence was profoundly felt, many came, participated and it was just what we wanted – laughter and love, laughter and food, laughter and stories, laughter and memories (my mother and her closest sister have a deep bond and secrets that they told us they have but didn’t share.)

On Friday night – an informal gathering was held at Mom’s featuring some of our St. Louis favorite foods, including fried catfish, toasted ravioli, Vess soda, ooey-gooey butter cake, and White Castle cheeseburgers (and a new interloper veggie burger).

On Saturday, we boarded a 15 passenger van (helmed efficiently by brother-in-law Chris) and went on a tour of highlights of Mom’s life. (What a great idea, sister-dear.)  These included Kinloch where we saw the ruins of Kinloch high school and a vast over-grown field where my grandmother’s house once stood. (A lot of land was taken by eminent domain by the airport for runways that were never built and are now weeds, abandoned and falling down buildings, and full of trash where it’s clear there’s been a lot of dumping.)  This once-proud, all Black city still has a few houses (some quite well-tended) and a fairly new City Hall.  It is a sin and a shame what it’s come to…

Mom is in 2nd row from back, 4th from right. She was the only one. She survived.

Back to the celebration –   Mom narrated how she took the bus and a street car and another bus to reach Rosati-Kain High School in St. Louis, where she spent her last two years of high school as one of a handful of Black students.

We also went down Natural Bridge and Kingshighway to our former church, Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church; past Soulard Market where we spend many a Sunday shopping for fresh vegetables and food; down to the river front where many of us in that van were baptized.  We had a delicious brunch at The River Lillie Restaurant. Our trip ended

at the cemetery where we prayed over our grandmother’s grave and my Mom pointed to her headstone which is already engraved and waiting many more years for the date after the dash we pray.

On Sunday, many of us went to Christ Our Redeemer Church with Mom and then met at my sister’s house for dinner.  Cousin Jewelle, who hadn’t been seen earlier in the weekend, surprised my Mom with a portrait she’d painted.  It was absolutely beautiful and captured my Mom’s eyes precisely.  She is one of the most gifted members of our talented family.

Surrounding us as we celebrated was the spirit of our forever matriarch, Gladys, affectionately known to everyone as Mother. She nurtured us in the rich soil of the homestead built by our grandfathers in Kinloch, where we had a city with a Mayor, Fire Department, movie theater, stores, etc.

Our family changes as members transition and move to new states. The generational dance means that some move into elder status and others into early middle-age; babies are born and adopted; former babies enter middle school or graduate from high school and enter college or graduate from college and enter careers; There are marriages and engagements and the family expands to welcome new members/  What is constant is the family remains based in love and kinship that holds together bonded and bound together (short fissures be damned).

The glow of the weekend will carry us all forward until we are together again.  Love you all.


Written by John A. Wright Sr – part of the Black America Series




About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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