Sunday, May 4, 2014

Of Cobbler and Unions... Remembering my grandmother, Rosa Gaynell Burns Loper

My poem, "Of Cobbler and Unions," appeared in the Southern Voice section of Deep South Magazine.  You can find it here.

The poem is based on events in the life of my grandmother, Rosa Gaynell Burns Loper.  Grandma was a petite woman-- about 5 feet tall and probably around 100 pounds.  Like most kids, I never gave much thought to her life; to what she did when she wasn't being my grandmother.  She doted on me and my sister whenever we went to Texarkana to visit her and Grandpa.  Many of the memories I have of her revolve around food-- butter beans, Mexican cornbread, fried okra, and, of course, peach cobbler.  Certain smells also bring back memories.  She worked in a pickling plant-- I remember the smell of pickles as she came in the back door after work.  And, Noxzema, which she always used before bed.  Thankfully, these memories outweigh the memory of her after dementia had set in.  But, just as she didn't recognize us anymore when she was suffering from dementia, neither did she seem to be my grandmother-- at least not the one who had played with us, made delicious meals, or gone to the racetrack with us.  It was many years after she had died that I learned from my mother that Grandma had helped lead the effort to unionize the plant she worked in.  It was kind of hard to imagine this tiny, soft spoken Southern woman as a labor activist.  But, she had an incredible amount of pride and respect for hard work, as did Grandpa.  Both had come from families that, like many Southern landowning families, had fallen on hard times after the Civil War and the years and decades that followed.  Both knew they were working class, but also knew that didn't require subservience.  Hard work, honesty, ethics, and fair treatment and respect for others.  Those were what my grandparents passed down to my mother, my aunt, and all of us grandkids.  Oh, and a love for peach cobbler.

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