And, I should add, my grandmother and my father. This personal memoir is about my family and how I perceive its connection with a great man.
First, and most recently, my mother died a month and a half ago at the age of 102. She lived a long and wonderful life. I was relieved for her when she choose to relinquish her life peacefully after she could no longer sustain it or do most of the things she once could do. I feel the same sense of relief for Mr. Mandela.
But my family history goes back further. First there was my grandmother, my father’s mother, a one-time suffragette and worker at Hull House in Chicago. Early in my life I went with her to prayer meetings in the poor black neighborhoods in Des Moines. I saw people who had far less than our family. My grandmother was a single mother working as a teacher in one-room schools in Iowa while living with families in the towns. Her husband had died when my father was six. When I was born, she lived with my parents. She was my Headstart program and taught me to read before I was old enough for school. She, who had very little, was always there to help anyone. She was my Mandela.
My father started working for the telephone company as a janitor when he was sixteen in order to pay for college. After college he continued to work there until he retired. Eventually he was in a position to hire others. I remember him trying to hire some of the unemployed poor but failing because they had no transportation to get them to the job.
Nelson Mandela made all the small efforts that my family made and countless other people have made have meaning. I am so glad that I have been able to share the world with him.