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Memoir Editing Sample -
Dear Ma

Three generations of African-American women forge their way through racism, sexism, and humanism while working to create a unique family legacy.

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BEFORE STORY EDITING

We were Negros. “Living on a lonely island of poverty. Sadly crippled. Judged by the color of our skin,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed. This was the predicament in which society had placed the Negro. I was three the first time I heard Dr. King’s monotone, sermonic, voice. It boomed from the Zenith black and white floor model TV in Ma’Dear’s living room. “Zenith, the quality goes in before the name goes on.” That was their jingle – their story. When the knob broke off, Ma dear used plyers to turn the station. If MLK was on, Ma Dear turned to him. She watched him attentively. I sat on the floor, indigenously. I might have asked, “Ma Dear who dat?” pointing at the thick-faced man on the screen. To which she would have replied, “Baby, dat’s King!” After she died, King’s voice would become emmeshed in the her absence.


I called her Ma Dear. Her name was Leona. Leona was my mother’s paternal aunt – my mother’s, father’s sister. She took the place of my maternal grandmother who died giving birth to my mother. When Leona heard about the newborn. she trudged from Memphis into the bile of Tennessee to get her brother’s baby. My mother was being cared for by her maternal aunt who cradled her in grief. The maternal aunt built a crib out of a drawer to hold the motherless child. The drawer was padded with rags and stuff for comfort. Then, Leona arrived! Leona wanted the baby, she declared, “The baby I come for and the baby I’m going to get.” I know this because my mother told me. She knew because she was told. This is how Leona became my grandmother, Ma. Dear.

 

AFTER EDITING

We were Negros.

“Living on a lonely island of poverty. Sadly crippled. Judged by the color of our skin,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed.

Crippled was the predicament in which society had placed the Negro. I was three the first time I heard Dr. King’s monotone, sermonic voice. It boomed from the Zenith black and white floor model TV in Ma Dear's living room. ‘Zenith, the quality goes in before the name goes on.’ That was their jingle – their story. When the knob broke off, Ma Dear used plyers to turn the station. If MLK was on, Ma Dear turned to him. She watched him attentively. I sat on the floor indigenously.

I might have asked, “Ma Dear who dat?” Pointing at the thick-faced man on the screen.

To which she would have replied, “Baby, dat’s King!” After she died, King’s voice would become enmeshed in her absence.

I called her Ma Dear. Her name was Leona. Leona was my mother’s paternal aunt – my mother’s father’s sister. She took the place of my maternal grandmother, who died giving birth to my mother. When Leona heard about the newborn, she trudged from Memphis into the bile of Tennessee to get her brother’s baby. My mother was being cared for by her maternal aunt, who cradled her in grief. The maternal aunt built a crib out of a drawer to hold the motherless child. The drawer, padded with rags, stuffed for comfort. Then, Leona arrived! Leona wanted the baby. She declared, “The baby I come for and the baby I’m going to get.” I know this because my mother told me. She knew because she was told. This is how Leona became my grandmother, Ma. Dear.

My grandmother was full of stories; she told them all to me. Often, she spoke in riddles masked by tales of yesteryear. There never was a formal setting for these impromptu storytelling sessions. My mother, Bessie, would proclaim, “Ma Dear tell ‘Lane bout...” She would then retell the story to benefit the listening ears hungry to understand the world. There wasn’t any censorship to the verbiage she used when relaying these memories. Whether the context was understood or not, I listened contently. I was barely comprehending the exhaustive context in which they were presented. My family history was wrapped inside the code that I struggled to decipher as she spoke. She painted a picture of genealogy in many of her stories with her colorful wording—complex nuances cloaked in the limited imagination of a young child.

Ma Dear wasn't born on a special day, but the day she was born became special. It is not to say Ma Dear was or wasn't special by herself, but the period didn't allow for such lavish displays of affection. She was born nearly 35 years into the Jim Crow, two generations removed from life before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Ma Dear was born in Slayden, Tennessee, only sixteen years after her mother. Even so, the slave mentality was still alive and strong, although sharecropping was the family trade. A family nearly worked for much of nothing to live unless they worked all day and utilized other skills to offset the financial strain of still being unable to make a living wage.

In her day, she, a black girl, was a dime a dozen and not particularly worth the time or effort from anyone besides the mother who birthed her. Her skin created a natural boundary that was visible to the naked eye. Even with the separation of states and the ability to be counted as free, she was just one step beyond ownership. A child is born to believe that her worth was only presented in someone else's mind. Whether it be someone of white descent or in the affections of a black male who deemed her worthy to bed, her existence would only be what she made of it, with little direction or opportunity that education or travel could add to her base of knowledge. It was still more often than not that she would be likely to learn to read and write as work had more importance to survival than school books.

Even her mother, though, wouldn't have been able to relish the birth of her child. With the mentality that youth brought, she would have taken pride in helping her family make ends meet. Her mother’s mother or sister would have assisted during the delivery taking place inside the two-room shed. A younger female child would assist by running to retrieve the rags, water, and even announce the baby’s birth to the father and the rest of the family. There would not be a nurse or someone with credentials there to make sure everything went smoothly. No doctor would be present. In an emergency, there wouldn't be an ambulance or hospital to help. Their knowledge of birthing babies would far exceed those with credentials because her expertise is from repetitive application through experience.

Ma Dear's mother would give birth in the morning and often continue her duties the next day due to family obligations. Sharecroppers were still treated like livestock, often begging and borrowing for time if the owner was unreasonable with production. Your worth was only in what you could do to add income, and that was the extent of your worth. Ma Dear would have been wrapped in some rags, tied to her mother's back, and she would have spent many hours of life close by her mother's side. While her mother continued to pick cotton, wash clothes, sew, cook, or count herself ‘lucky’ if she found work as a housekeeper for a wealthy white family. Complications in delivery would result in tragedy most times because of the lack of care or the money to pay for a town doctor. Hopefully, there would be one of color because the doctors of white descent often would not show up. Pain for your pain, and even if healed, there would be no time for feeling sorry for yourself. No rest for the weary!

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