• Kemba Zola

My grandma is better than yours

As a spoiled mean girl, I could not fathom leaving Grandma Ann. Certainly I was not moving to California with Mother and her new husband.

Grandma Ann, Mother Florence, Aunt Mamie, and baby aunt in Wisner, LA

Born May 27, 1926 some 9 hours away from Alton, IL where Jazz legend, Miles Davis III was birthed the day before. Anita Brass joined the world proclaiming Seven Steps to Heaven in Wisner, LA. Eventually, both Miles and Anita would migrate to California. That is where the parallels of their lives end. Anita was born to a young mother who often left her and her baby brother with their grandmother. Anita tells the story of being reared by her grandmother, Ann, with up to 15 other young relatives, moving to California, bigamy, mother-daughter relationships, and her legacy.


My mother was always on a train to a dance over here and back there. St. Louis and New Orleans were her pleasure spots of choice.


ten o’clock, straight “until”


“Until you quit. Until period”. After 3am, you couldn’t find an empty seat in the house.

Trumpets, trombones, saxes, clarinet, tuba, banjo drums and don’t forget the piano man with all the ladies congregating around him.


Mother partied away to the tunes of Bubber Miley and Duke Ellington. She enjoyed a fast life so much so, my father never saw it coming. While dropping her off at the train station on one particular day, he had purchased her a beautiful pair of leather gloves. She was exquisite, petite in size and height. They kissed see you laters and that was it. She never returned home to him. He lost her to whatever be-bop was going on.


Meanwhile, Grandma Ann would have to go away for days at a time, as a mid-wife. I was afraid for her because we all knew she was being taken advantage of on some of these work occasions. My eldest uncle was so fair skinned, we knew his real daddy had no type of kin to the rest of our dark selves. Grandma Ann was strong and held the family together. She taught the older children how to tend us younger ones. We did well in the Big House. After a tornado plowed through the 23 rooms, maybe 13 rooms still remained. All of a sudden, it became too much. She told our parents they needed to come pick us up. She was no longer able to care for all of us. I was so sad. I loved her and she loved me back. I didn’t think my mother even liked me.


“I want to go to the movies.”

- “Sorry Nita, I don’t have that kind of money.”

“I don’t care what you have. You better find me my movie money”


As Mother cried over the flour pot, Grandma found 10 cents for me to make my movie.

As a spoiled and mean girl, I could not fathom leaving Grandma Ann. Certainly I was not moving to California with Mother and her new husband. I had no choice. By the age of 14 I was often running away to my aunties. I managed to go back to Louisiana to visit sometime around the age of 19. I did not like Aubrey, but my cousin convinced me he was nice. We married. That was short lived because the same way Mother left Dad, I left Aubrey and headed back to California.


Sonny was a handsome man with a good job downtown. He always had a lot of women around. Last count, I think it was maybe 19 of them. At least it felt that way. The details are sketchy, he charmed me, I ran the women away, I got pregnant, we married. Sonny was always a terrific provider. He handled everything, including the fact we married without me being legally divorced from Aubrey. I used my mothers maiden name to marry Sonny.

Four children later, our daughter was born. Grandma Ann passed away sometime after our second child birth. Mother was quite helpful. By this time, she was in her fourth marriage. Our relationship continued in brokenness, partly because I had an ugly mouth. I spent a lot of time with Mother. It must have been torturous for her. I said hurtful things and she ignored me. Some years later, my daughter became flip at the mouth and before her top lip met her bottom one, I reached over and popped her in the head. - “You will never speak to me like that”.


My daughter became my best friend. I was so over protective of her. As grown and independent as she thought she was, I did not think she was capable of making her own decisions. My little baby.


- I tell you what. One day she called me on the phone to say her husband hit her. Before that fool could get from the backyard to the front I had already made the drive 10 miles with my screw driver. So help me God, I was gone stick him in the neck. The Lord was on his side that day and he knew I wasn’t playing.


I was blessed to have 6 children, but I loved my daughter like no other. Grandma Ann and Mother spoiled me rotten. I would have been damned to let my daughter act ugly towards me. Somehow, I could not stop her from calling her own children motherfu…(shut your mouth). Oh how I tried. Regardless to her potty mouth, she raised her children well.

God is good. He gave me a grandmother that knew love to no bounds. I am thankful. He made me a child of a young mother, who did everything she could with what she had. I wish I would have told her how much I appreciated and loved her, because I really did. He gave me a daughter that would be my best friend, alternating roles between who was really the mother and who was the daughter. The same way I nursed her into this life, I cared for her harder in her last days. Today, at the age of 92. I am the matriarch of 5 living generations. I stand strong, rich in mind, family and love. No, it does not matter that I cough a little here and there. The doctor is not old enough to tell me anything. Give me a Motrin, turn on Judge Judy, and let me yell at the televangelist. You bet not shut my front door because I need to see what is happening outside, then I will tell the story my way. Please let everybody know the legacy I will leave behind is family first. We may not always get along, but we will always pull together. You don’t have to always like one another because love will always be bigger than your individual issues. No family member will be left behind.


Story written by Kemba Zola as told by Anita Upshaw

Kemba Zola

God first, love hard, and always live your best life!

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