Today I honor the memory of my great-great grandmother, Mary Roth Rhodes, who was born on this day in 1863 in Würtemberg, Germany, the daughter of Dora + Gottlieb Roth.
14 years ago, in July 2003, she became a beacon, a catalyst and a guide for me on a pathway of reclamation, transformation and healing. Not only from the trauma of living in Brooklyn through 9/11 and numbing out in the aftermath. But for examining, understanding, compiling, and righting/re-writing a family’s history where men don’t survive and women carry on, in spite of profound loss and because of profound love for those left behind. For seeing clearly generational patterns that created heart aches and breaks, too many what-ifs and if-onlys. For parsing hope, bravery, fortitude and tenderness from this seemingly meager inheritance. For committing to build a new legacy upon her foundation of mother-wisdom.
With help from my sister Tamara, who followed the leads I’d dug up in NYC libraries and picked up those threads in the National Archives in D.C., we learned of her journey from her native country to NYC, with a friend, at the age of 17 and eventually on to Hamilton, Ontario where she would marry my great-great grandfather Wesley, a former slave and Civil War veteran.
Because of her, I decided to leave New York after 9 years. My only vision: to begin anew as she had the courage to do, to live simply and to be engaged in community. Because of her, I returned home. Because of her, I eventually decided to stay. (Not necessarily an easy or simple choice after living away from home since the age of 14.) Because of her, I recognized that the true gift and power of researching our past was in the opportunity to rebuild and nurture connections bolstered by this new understanding of all the stuff we were made of — in blood and spirit.
25 july 2017