Another Amazing Woman Whose Genes I Don’t Share

This is my Granny Flonnie – the grandmother with the most sing-song name a kid could ask for.


Her maiden name was Cromwell, but do not mistake her for a Victorian-era shrinking violet. I suppose her given name was Florence, but no one ever, ever called her that. She was Flonnie, a woman who was over 40 years old when she had twin babies – a boy and a girl. The baby girl was my mother.


The year was 1936, which still holds the record for the hottest summer in the U.S., and Flonnie had those two babies on the front porch while someone poured buckets of water on the wood to cool it down. My mother once told me that she and her brother weighed over seven pounds each when they were born and that sent a shiver across my spine. Thirteen months later Flonnie’s husband was killed by a drunk driver and she was left to raise six children alone. My mother and Uncle Bob were surprise babies, born 13 years after my Aunt Margaret, who was the youngest until the twins came along. So my grandmother, now a widowed mother, took a job at the school cafeteria and brought home the leftovers for dinner on many evenings. She raised her children and then when grandchildren began to come along, she helped take care of them too.


She had developed diabetes by the time I was born and the circulation in her legs wasn’t good. She had a hard time getting around. When I was a baby, she came to visit once and spent an evening with me while my parents went out. They had put me to bed upstairs, assuring her that they wouldn’t be gone long and there would be no need for her to climb the stairs. But sometime during that evening I began to cry. She couldn’t make it up the stairs, and when they came home they found her sitting on the bottom step sobbing while I screamed in the room upstairs. She had tried to climb the stairs, but couldn’t make it. Not long after that she was confined to a wheelchair. Then, she went to a nursing home. This was the late 1960s when nursing homes were like…nursing homes, and that place is the setting for most of the memories of my Granny Flonnie. She aged quickly in that place, and most of what I remember is a metal bed in a small cinderblock room with a bell on the nightstand and another twin bed on the other side. No single room option in that nursing home.

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I’m not sure my grandmother had one easy moment in her life, but she didn’t seem to believe that she was entitled to easy moments. This is a big deal for me – people who have every right to throw themselves a pity party and don’t do it. My mother was this kind of person. I, however, have quite the comfortable life so I can’t compare myself to these women. But I want to. I want their courage and fortitude and the character to face challenges without pouting or stomping my feet. I don’t want to raise my voice to a whining pitch every time something doesn’t go my way. I want to stop obsessing over how good I look in the eyes of others and start looking into the eyes of others so that I can serve them. Sometimes I tell myself that if these women’s blood ran through my veins, then I could say that I quite naturally inherited all these attributes. They weren’t perfect women at all, but they did possess some character traits I’d like to claim as my own. But these women and I are not genetically linked. And yet, I know that doesn’t matter and so I’ve tried to walk in the footsteps of both of my grandmothers and my mother. And, more importantly, I’ve shared all these stories with my girls so that they will want to walk in those footsteps also. This is another big deal for me. May I say this: I don’t want my girls to be princesses. And I didn’t buy the t-shirt.

I was raised by women who did not quiver over hard times. They weren’t afraid to bring the leftovers home from the school cafeteria or wear homemade clothes. They got their hands dirty (my mother and father cleaned every single used brick for a house they built in the 1970s) and wore out their oven mitts taking meals to people who were sick. These are the women I long to emulate. In my book, these were real women who taught everyone around them how to be both gentle and tough at the same time. You can’t do much better than that.

The ring my grandmother is wearing in her nursing home bed is her wedding ring, given to her by the husband she lost. That ring is now in my jewelry box and I take it out every now and then and try it on (it’s too big for me) and imagine myself to have the amount of fortitude that was in the ring finger of my grandmother. I’d be lucky to have that much. Gentle and tough. I’m working on it.

Ghana in October Day Two: Church, Children, and Queen Mothers

When Erin and I were here in May, we roamed the area around our Kumasi hotel hunting for a church but never found one. Well, I found one in Ankaase today. The Methodist church is about a five-minute walk from the mission house where I am staying so there was no excuse to miss Sunday services. Evans, the school headmaster’s son, came to get me about 9 a.m. and we walked the red dirt road and were just in time for the start of the service. I understood very little since most of it was spoken in Twi, the regional language, but the music had a good beat and you could dance to it. Which many did, not including me. We sang a peppy rendition of “It Is Well With My Soul,” which I’ve never thought was a song that you could move to, but they did. The preacher was a woman (love those Methodists) who I think brought it home, although I couldn’t understand a bit of it. I was tempted to join in the “amen” chorus, but I thought that might look phony. Here’s an idea for a first-time visitor welcome: have them come to the front of the sanctuary, hand them a mike, and ask them to tell you why they have come. My explanation was meant with blank stares since I don’t speak Twi, but they were very kind to welcome me and all in all, it was a good two-hour Sunday morning service. Short, by African standards I’m told. I wish I had taken better photos, but I was already looking conspicuous and walking around with a camera didn’t seem the thing to do.

We finished visiting our children today, Kadri, Kamariatu, and Beatrice. By the way, we’re looking for sponsors for Kamariatu and Beatrice. Kamariatu lives with her brother (Kadri) and mother. The mother, Fatima, has been abandoned by her husband, who offers no support for the children. She is uneducated and sells soup to help bring in money. This is the little boy who was just sure I was taking him home with me when we visited in May. They are precious children and they were thrilled to get their gifts. I’m hopeful Kamariatu can figure out the Pez dispenser.

And then, as we were walking to the next house, we ran into none other than the Ankaase village’s Queen Mother. Each village has a Queen Mother, who is never the wife of the King, but actually appoints him (nice!). The Queen Mother also helps look after the women in the village. It was a privilege to meet Nana Konadu Ababio, although the next time I take a picture with a Queen Mother I’m remembering that we don’t want a taxi as the backdrop. Kind of ruins the moment.

And lastly, we went to visit Beatrice. We’re also looking for a sponsor for her. She lives with her grandmother because her father died and her mother is farming in another village. The mother sends money when she can, but not often enough. Beatrice’s grandmother, Liz, is trying very hard to take care of about six grandchildren – some of them Beatrice’s cousins. The surroundings were tough to see. We pray for these children every day (Alison prays for every child by name each evening before bed), but to see up close where they live brings into focus the great needs of these families. Grandmother Liz is tired, I could see it in her eyes, but the women take care of the families here. It’s just the way it is. Grandmothers, mothers, and aunts carry the burden, often alone, of making sure these children are fed, clothed and educated. And for many of them, it’s an uphill climb.

I so admire these women, and I think that perhaps they are all Queen Mothers.

For those of you who donated computers and funds for computers, they all made it here safely and we will be making the presentation on Tuesday. I have a great videographer who will be capturing everything on film. On our first day here I handed the video camera to Evans with little explanation about how it works (because I really don’t know), and he’s figured it out and captured some great footage of our time with the kids. Leave to a 21 year-old to know a Canon video camera by intuition.

So I’m off to bed. Tomorrow we’ll spend most of the day at the school (I think). The electricity has been on all day, so I’m preparing myself for what tomorrow might bring. Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement. It’s been a good day, and tomorrow will be another one. Until then, goodnight from Ankaase.