Every Sunday afternoon, Alice Anderson greeted almost all five of her children and 16 grandchildren with this hearty welcome as we shuffled in for Sunday dinner after church.
It was a challenge of sorts, wrapped in the biggest and warmest smile imaginable. It was if she were saying, “You are my blood and my blood is made of courage, strength and dignity. So you better walk in this house and act like you know!” Little did we know this greeting predicted how she would spend her final days.
Alice Anderson lived to the triumphant age of 89. Every year of her life colors our days in more ways than can be counted. In her earlier years in South Carolina, where she was born, the third of nine children, she was a leading member of a traveling singing group that made records and appeared on television.
After marriage, she transitioned from a musical career to motherhood and moved to California. During her funeral, or homegoing, as it’s called in the black community, we learned she’s the reason we are in California: she brought her niece and other family members.
My grandmother was adventurous, bold, daring and a dreamer, although some dreams were accompanied by brief nightmares.
After bearing five children, Alice was abandoned by her husband. He became a pastor and started a new family. But she didn’t let that stop her stride. She went on to raise all five children on a maid’s earnings and third-grade education. And her husband, right before dying from a heart attack, apologized to her for leaving.
I don’t believe she needed the apology. She raised a reverend and social worker, an entrepreneur, a nurse practitioner, a graphic designer and a chief of human resources. And those are just her children. Her accomplishments increase through her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Yes, she was ambitious. And that ambition overflowed.
Alice spent her later years in the company of her children and sixteen grandchildren. Her love was as grand as her smile.
She tried to attend every graduation, play performance and competition. In the 1990s, she attended a play written and directed by her eldest daughter. It was in a church that transformed into a courtroom. Yours truly was Jesus Christ’s defense counsel. I was in high school and very into acting and entertainment. After watching the play and my closing statement in defense of Christ, Alice looked at me and said, That’s what you’re going to be: a lawyer.
Now, being a lawyer was the furthest thing from my mind. I was going to be an actress, the next Angela Bassett! But here I am, 15 years later: a lawyer. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, my grandmother was a dreamer. Or shall I say prophetic.
When I tell you Alice’s years color our lives, I can’t express how evident that is. Just take one look at her offspring and you see Alice in all of her glory.
Alice never shared her musical background with her children or grandchildren. But I think she knew she didn’t have to. That blood runs deep. Every one of her children and grandchildren are musicians and singers.
We never knew where the music came from until her last days as she suffered from dementia. That hearty greeting became a daily reality. But in the midst of her suffering, we could see the youthful Alice as she played the kitchen table like a piano. Life was coming around full circle for her and fully unveiled for us.
I could go on about Alice. But, in short, she is all that I aspire to be. For her homegoing, I was honored to share a poem I wrote about my grandmother, titled, “Alice.”
She is grace. She is beauty. She is strength wrapped in humility.
Her warmth proceeds her hugs, through her smile we are enveloped by love.
Now, she sleeps…
Ever present at his feet.
She is embraced by those who’ve gone ahead,
waiting they’ve welcomed and anointed her head.
We here, left near what once was,
have pieces of Alice in our every word.
From her we’re birthed from womb to spirit,
From her we speak from soul, can’t you hear it?
Listen…. she’s written her story on our hearts.
From maid to great grandmother of tots…
Her fingerprints polish our lives, for in us, she’s sown seeds saying…
God is my rock, my strength and my king!
So stand tall where you are, my legacy, my seed.
For in you, I’ve poured my grace, my beauty, my strength wrapped in humility.