Laughing with Big Mama

Laughing with Big Mama

How to Discover the Wise Guide Within You

By Sabrina N'Diaye

September/October 2022

I never had a traditional grandmother experience with Big Mama: she didn’t bake cookies, take me on trips, or share stories about the “good ole days.” Her arms were never able to hold me in a warm embrace, and her legs could never accompany me on walks around our neighborhood. As a child, I knew that my maternal grandmother, the queen of our family, had suffered a stroke that had changed her forever, but it took me a while to understand the reasons why and grasp the impact two white police officers had had on my grandmother’s heart and brain when they barged in through the door of her tenement apartment one snowy afternoon in February of 1960.

As was the case in most Harlem hubs of that time, my grandmother’s neighbors were her family. She knew every resident of the building where she, her siblings, and her children were raised. Despite being a poor, Black, single mother, she felt safe in her railroad flat. That’s why, when the police came for one of her brothers, whom they accused of having stolen a loaf of bread from a local bakery, she didn’t even have to unlock the door for them: her door hadn’t been locked in years.

“We’re looking for Albert,” one of the cops said. “Where is he?”

Over the years, each retelling of this story landed differently in my body. My child body responded with the fear that police could easily harm my own mother one day. And when I became someone’s mother, the story evoked rage, helplessness, and an understanding that showing…

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Topic: Aging

Tags: Aging | getting old | Older people

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