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Posts Tagged ‘Earnest McEwen’

To Celebrate Life, Love, Moms, Motherhood, & Valentine’s Day

Letter to My Mom, Mildred Blackmon McEwen

Give her roses while she can still enjoy them. ~ Earnest McEwen, Jr. (my father)

Dear Mama ~

It isn’t your birthday or Mother’s Day. Christmas is over. Epiphany, too. It’s the beginning of a glorious New Year… and I’m writing this letter to honor you. I want to thank you for the singular blessing you’ve poured and continue to pour into my life: you!

You are that blessing. Your life is a poem, a mighty spiritual, a testimony of gratitude, faith, and love. And this letter is a celebration of you.

Your road has been long; your journey has not been easy. Bigotry and prejudice fortified you, teaching you how to love even more deeply and how to see not just with your anatomical eyes, but also to see with the eyes of your heart. Greatest of all, you relied on God’s love and strength rather than your own. In this you gave me the gift of faith and unconditional love for myself and others.

You also gave me what my sister-friend and fellow poet Nikky Finney would say is the gift of being “a woman with keys.” A woman with keys moves in a particular way and she has a responsibility, an obligation to help others find theirs, help them move through their rooms, cross their thresholds, unlock their windows and doors on the journey to claim their promise.

I remember as a little girl, you gave me the precious gift of encouragement. When you said over and again, “Be all that God intended you to be—no matter what, come what may.” I now offer that gift back to my daughter, other family members, my students, clients, and friends.

I remember your humility and sacrifice. For many long years you and Daddy toiled and sacrificed so that my sisters and I could have a better life than the ones you’d known. I remember your and Dad’s Mississippi stories of struggle and strife, of Dad’s deep longing to go to college to better himself and improve our lot, of him working as a janitor at Ole Miss and there, by the grace of God, William Faulkner came into his life and paid for Dad to attend Alcorn A&M College, with no strings attached. I remember you working as a teacher and cook in the nursery school to help make ends meet, Dad’s working at low-paying jobs even with his college degree. I remember you both standing on your rock-solid values of hard work, gratitude, faith, love, and integrity.

I also remember the profound lessons you taught me—to lend others a helping hand, to be of service to others… your constant reminders to do something with my time, to make myself useful. Even if I was already occupied doing something! Today your words echo in my soul as the voice of legacy. Early on, you taught me, Doris, Annie, Debbie, and Vera that you make a living by what you choose as your work, and you make a life by what you do for others.

I remember when I asked what compelled you to go along with Daddy’s “impossible” dreams, you said, “I loved your father and I believed in him. More importantly, we had an abiding faith in Almighty God, and He never gave us more than we could handle, and His grace always saw us through.” Even when you didn’t have any idea of how our family would make it, your love and faith sustained you.

Thank you for giving me a legacy that values education, character, as well as loving, lifting up, and helping others with no strings attached. Thank you for painting on the canvas of eternity with your unshakable belief in the nobility of the human spirit, for painting with a palette imbued with the qualities of humility, faith, love, triumph, and the capacity to treat every human being with dignity and respect. Through you, I have a small glimpse of God’s magnificence, devotion, and triumph.

Because of you, I know—deep in my bones—a few things: if you want change, you must stir the waters and be willing to get out of the boat. If you want change, then you have to invest your heart and soul in the generations to come. I also know that each person must live the legacy that God has intended just for him or her, which means that you can’t hide your light under a bushel. You have to dare to wear your soul on the outside, and keep on keeping on—no matter what, and we have to pass it on by building sturdy bridges for others to cross.

Mother, thank you for being a diva in my life, for not merely talking about blessings… but for being the blessing, and for passing it on!

Love and honor, your daughter Gloria

Pass It On!

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As the golden days of autumn give way to auburn, rust, and brown,  we lean toward Thanksgiving, a season of deep gratitude.

Today and always I give thanks for my many blessings – family and friends, children’s laughter, angels and prayers that come into my life, bidden or unbidden, even my breath, which I so often take for granted… but which for some is an immense struggle.

Aunbance is Yours

Abundance is Yours

Many years ago, I wrote “Sanctuary,” one of my many poems of gratitude. I share it with you now as an offering of thanksgiving for a faithful, stout-hearted woman of God… my  mom, Mildred McEwen, and to two amazing men whose legacy of generosity and gratitude changed my life… my father, Earnest McEwen, Jr.,  and William Faulkner.

Who has been a blessing in your life? Have you expressed your gratitude?

SANCTUARY

for William Faulkner and my father, Earnest McEwen, Jr.*

Between the brush of angels’ wings

and furious hooves of hell, two mortal men

fell down. How you must have looked—

white shirt stained, khakis fatigued,

smelling of sweat and smoke,

hair at odds with itself and the world.

At the threshold among your restless dead

in echo and shadow of ancient oaks,

providing sanctuary, offering shade,

you had many worlds behind you,

few yet to be born: stories of insurgence,

scorn, decay—theme and variations

of a vanquished South.

Leaning against a jamb

of antebellum brass, you watched, waited,

raised weary arm and hand, saluted

the familiar stranger. Come. Enter. Sit. Sing.

You reached each other across the grate.

What you two must have known of heaven and hell.


* William Faulkner was my father’s benefactor, paying for him to attend college at a time when he had little

prospects of earning enough money to pay for it himself. This was Faulkner’s way of dismantling institutionalized racism long before desegregation was mandated in the South.

__________________________________

Harvest blessings.

Pass It On!

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I honor my father, Earnest McEwen, Jr., this Father’s Day for the many blessings he poured into my life. A hard worker all his life, he was quick to remind others to “remember to stop and smell the roses.” As a kid, I recall those rare, precious Saturday afternoons when he’d take me fishing with him. Or when he’d take my mom, me, and my sisters for a holiday outing to Kensington Park not too far from Detroit, MI. We’d pray for sun. We’d often have a hot, muggy day, topped off by a great big thunderstorm.

Even as a young boy, somehow my dad knew what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan knew when he affirmed that “Education… is the only sure path out of poverty and the only way to achieve a more equal and just society.” That’s as true today as it ever was.

Growing up in my house, it wasn’t a matter of if I’d attend college. It was purely a matter of which one. Ditto for my four sisters. As the first person in his family to attend college, my father wanted to ensure that I and my sisters received an excellent education, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the grinding hardship and poverty that he and my mom experienced growing up in rural Mississippi in the 1930s and ’40s.

Autumn was my dad’s favorite season. Many years ago, when he was terminally ill with several types of cancer, I walked the grounds of Bethany cemetery with him to select his casket. I asked him why he wanted to do this. He said, “I want to spare your mother from this burden.” I remember thinking to myself, what kind of what would do this for his wife? “A king of a man,” I thought. As we walked along the path, we didn’t say much else. We simply enjoyed the pleasure and comfort of each other’s presence. Many years after my father passed away, I wrote the poem “That Autumn Morning” as a tribute to him, to honor his life and his death. Here’s to you, Daddy!

That Autumn Morning

thinking of Robert Hayden

In memory of my father. I thank God for his unconquerable soul.

I remember

You leaning

for balance.

I remember

You before me,

listing toward earth

and heaven.

Leaves dry

raspy beneath our feet.

Branches fallen,

Chrysanthemums faded:

musty memories,

dying on mounds

of autumn earth.

I remember

You steady

speaking of plots

as if you were talking about cars or trucks.

How big (the funeral), what kind, how much.

Not too fancy.  Maple will do.

You lifted

eased our burden

even as, moment by moment,

your body vanished into spirit.

I remember

You in your seasons

and say a prayer:

Rain maker.  Angel.  Guardian.

I remember.

Pass It On!

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Next  Sunday is my birthday! I’m throwing myself a party—to celebrate another year here.  My party is all about saying YES!

YES! After fully recuperating from surgery, I’m walking again. I include several intervals of 2-3 minute “power bursts,” to burn a few more calories and pamper my heart.

YES! I’m eating more oatmeal, because it tastes good and because it’s good for my heart. A touch of cinnamon makes it even better and helps keep my LDL cholesterol in check.

YES! I’m drinking my 8-10 glasses of water every day. When I have my occasional cup of coffee, I can hear my sister, Vera, whisper in my ear as she flashes her lovely smile—“OK, Glo, add one glass of water for every cuppa Joe.” She’s one of the most fit women on the planet, so I listen and drink up.

YES! I’m coming up on my 57th birthday. Just a few weeks before his 57th,  my father passed away from cancer of colon, liver, and pancreas. So I celebrate this year as a tribute to my dad, Earnest McEwen, Jr.,  and to myself–for beating the odds.  YES!

Say YES to taking excellent care of yourself. You’re the only one who can.

Pass It On!

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Your life is a poem, a mighty spiritual, a testimony of gratitude, faith, and love. And this letter is a celebration of you.

Your road has been long; your journey has not been easy. Bigotry and prejudice fortified you, teaching you how to love even more deeply and how to see not just with your anatomical eyes, but also to see with the eyes of your heart. Greatest of all, you relied on God’s love and strength rather than your own. In this you gave me the gift of faith and unconditional love for myself and others.

You also gave me what my sister-friend and fellow poet Nikky Finney would say is the gift of being “a woman with keys.” A woman with keys moves in a particular way and she has a responsibility, an obligation to help others find theirs, help them move through their rooms, cross their thresholds, unlock their windows and doors on the journey to claim their destiny, their promise, their legacy.

I remember as a little girl, you gave me the precious gift of encouragement. When you said over and again, “Be all that God intended you to be—no matter what, come what may.” I now offer that gift back to my daughter, other family members, my students, clients, and friends.

I remember your humility and sacrifice. For many long years you and Daddy toiled and sacrificed so that my sisters and I could have a better life than the ones you’d known. I remember your and Dad’s Mississippi stories of struggle and strife, of Dad’s deep longing to go to college to better himself and improve our lot, of him working as a janitor at Ole Miss and there, by the grace of God, William Faulkner came into his life and paid for Dad to attend Alcorn A&M College, with no strings attached. I remember you working as a cook in the nursery to help make ends meet, Dad’s working at low-paying jobs even with his college degree. I remember you both standing on your rock-solid values of hard work, gratitude, faith, love, and integrity.

I also remember you teaching me that we making a living by what we choose as our work or profession, and we make a life by what we do for others. For this and so much more, I thank you.

Love ~ Your Daughter, Gloria


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What do Maya Angelou, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and William Faulkner have in common?

Each of them took a stand for what they believed and changed history by doing so. Each stood up for their own or others’ rights during times when the society around them said, “No, you can’t do that.” They all dared to wear their soul on the outside.

Maya Angelou wrote the first in her series of books about her life–finding the beauty and majesty of her own voice as a woman, poet, and social artist; Lincoln stood against slavery and pulled together a team of unlikely rivals to maintain the integrity of the United States when it all the forces seemed to want to tear it apart. Nelson Mandela stood against apartheid in South Africa, spent almost 30 years in prison, and emerged to an instrument for a new social order. William Faulkner stood against racism in the American South and helped my father, Earnest McEwen, Jr., and other Blacks, get equal access to higher education.

When you find your passion and calling, you too can stand against those around you who tell you “no,” who may discourage you, who lack faith in you. You, too, can say “Yes, I Dared and I Did It!”

Who influenced you and helped you find your passion and calling? How are you using the power of your passion to stand for what you believe in and to be of service to others?

I’m collecting new stories about ordinary people who take a stand for what they believe. I’d love to hear from you. Please share one of your “Yes, I Dared and I Did It!” stories with me and forward this post to others so they can share one of their stories, too.

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