My matrilineal great-grandmother, Magnolia Stockstell Jenkins Mayes, was born on this day in 1889. She died from complications of a second stroke when I was four years old, but I remember her. She was born to William Stockstell, a man of black and white heritage, and to Sarah Watts Stockstell, a Cherokee Indian.
Granny married twice; first to Lucius Jenkins, Sr., with whom she had eight children, the youngest of which is my grandmother. Lucius was murdered long before my mother’s birth, and many years later, Granny married the man I knew as my Gramps, K.W. Mayes.
She and my great-grandfather had been born and raised in Mississippi and had migrated to Oklahoma with their three oldest children. In Oklahoma, in spite of the Depression, they thrived as pig and cattle farmers. My great-aunt, born in 1921, doesn’t remember having to suffer through much privation when growing up in the 1930s. She also says that her white neighbors called my great-grandparents “sir” and “ma’am” or “mister” and “missus,” a bit unusual for those times. It might have had something to do with the six-shooters that my great-grandfather and his sons carried openly wherever they went.
Granny’s heritage is a snapshot of the heritage of most black Americans. Many wonder why we’re so varied in skin color and hair texture. All I have to do is point to a picture of Granny. I remember seeing her nearly white, pale, aged, Indian-featured face looking down at me from the hospital-type bed that my great-aunts had bought for her after her stroke. She couldn’t speak, but she’d reach down with her good hand and touch my hair. I remember her long, black and grey braid and her kind, loving, light-colored eyes.
From all accounts, she was a tough, smart cookie. Having suffered through the violent deaths of her first husband and two of her sons, she had to be tough to survive whole.
My great-aunt and my grandmother were still kids when their father was murdered and, many years later, my great-aunt asked her mother why she waited so long to remarry. Granny said that she didn’t want to expose her two remaining minor children to a man who may or may not have had honorable intentions toward two pretty, teenaged girls.
She put the protection of her children before her own needs. What a concept.
My great-aunt says that I’m a lot like her: straight and to-the-point, impatient, willful, and tough. I’ve had few compliments that I’ve cherished more.
So Happy Birthday, Granny. There are many people here on Earth that still remember and love you.