From the first time I set foot in North Carolina, I knew it was a place of strong women, because my daughter was among them. As I watched her dance through the late spring breeze of May amongst a million colorful flowers and a few hundred white dresses, her graduation at Meredith College at Chapel Hill had only just begun her journey as a strong Carolina Woman. In these few short years since then, I have watched her find love and marriage with her high school sweetheart, find substantial employment at the prestigious Duke University, and be accepted into their highly sought after graduate program. Only God knows how far she’ll go from there – and only she knows how far she has come.
Growing up in a family from Deep South Mississippi with seven brothers and sisters, she, being the oldest of them, helped to watch after them and protect them from the years of abuse that I suffered at the hands of the man she called father. Even so, she struggled unyieldingly to finish high school as one of only two Distinguished Scholars in her graduating class that year. Shortly afterwards, bursting out of the door of oppression, doggedly following the love of her life into the big wide world out there, she made a determined and clever move to North Carolina. Since then, I have watched her make one smooth move after another in the game we call life, beating the odds against her in ways that no one would have dreamed possible apart from the hand of God.
While making her home in North Carolina, she has never forgotten her roots back here in Mississippi, though I know sometimes she would like to. She has watched over our family in the wake of hurricane Katrina, she has actively encouraged me to overcome my own circumstances and finish getting my masters degree, she has inspired and encouraged her brothers and sisters to finish high school, and contributed financially when needed. On that bright and sunny day in May that seems now like an eternity ago, I was there not by any of my own doing, but because she cared enough to buy out of her own pocket a bus ticket for her mama to come see her graduation exercises.
Now, as I journey home from North Carolina a second time by train with my youngest two children, I have come again at her expense. In this brief but wonderful weeklong visit, I have had the opportunity to learn a little bit about the history and making of North Carolina, in which many strong women participated to make it what it is today. I only hope that my little girl from South Mississippi, who has herself become a strong young woman in the face of adversity, will be welcomed into the arms of mother North Carolina, as her Mississippi mama must return back home to the deep south from where she came, to burst through the doors of oppression there. While watching the scenery pass through the train windows, I was reminded of the many scenes in my own life that have passed by so quickly that I hardly had time to see what was happening. Only God knows how far I have to go – and only I know how far I have come.
Growing up in a family in Deep South Mississippi, I had quit high school my senior year and married my high school sweet heart. I had been sexually abused by an uncle from the time I was four years old until I was about twelve and was still feeling the familial oppression from revealing those experiences, when I burst out of the door of that oppression, only to walk right back through another. The man I married, who I had met at my home church, began to abuse me both emotionally and physically soon after our marriage. When I sought for understanding and help, I was repeatedly told by some of my family members that I should not “air my dirty laundry,” which was a common construct of the Deep South culture I was raised in. By the time I realized what was happening to me, I had two small children and felt it was too late to do anything much about it. Six more children later, I finally attempted to walk out that door of oppression. Having grown up to believe, “Once married, always married,” I have remained in the marriage for more than twenty-five years, and though I am still married to my husband, I choose not to live with him, because of the history of abuse.
Since leaving my own home with not much other than the clothes on my back, I have fully paid for a mobile home of my own, finished my bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and have now received my master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Christian Counseling. My hope is to someday work with victims of sexual and domestic violence in a Christian atmosphere. I have taken the steps I believe will help to make that happen, but I know that it will only be possible by the hand of God. The strength I have found to overcome adversity is not my own, but by the grace of God, I have and will overcome whatever comes my way.
My daughter has often been my inspiration, and I so want to make her as proud of me someday as I am of her. Without her love, encouragement, and listening ear, I might have given up long ago. She grew up by my side in a home filled with violence and oppression, and walking out that door first, has given me courage to open that door and peek out at the big wide world outside of it. She has led me down the pathway of overcomers by taking those steps first. I may not have always made the right choices, or done the right thing, but through her love and forgiveness for my failure to protect her from all that she experienced, I know that I will walk out that door of oppression and overcome all my adversities.
My daughter is truly a strong woman, who I believe will be a beloved asset to the long line of North Carolina women that made it so great a place to call home. I hope that my little uprooted Rose of Mississippi that has been transplanted to the rich soils of North Carolina will have strong roots and strong branches to hold all the new blossoms of those who will come after her and help them grow. And as time passes, I hope she will remember the strong arms that held on to her and rocked her as a baby. I hope she will remember the lips that whispered prayers for her and kissed her cheeks with the wet tears that were often streaming down my face. I hope she will remember the voice of the angel that sang her to sleep with the lullabies of happy dreams and the solemn hymns of peace beyond any understanding. And lastly, I hope that she will strive to make things better for others that walk down the path that we walked, and help them burst through the doors of oppression as she has helped me. May God truly bless the strong North Carolina woman she has become, who this Mississippi Mama calls Rose.