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I Miss Ma Gussie

I Miss Ma Gussie

Momma’s mother was Gussie Mae Lewis, affectionately known as Ma Gussie. She lived in a small one bedroom apartment in Dennis Homes projects. Her living room was so tiny that there was only three to six inches between each piece of furniture. Dennis Homes was not like Chicago’s Cabrini-Green or any of the high rise projects. Crime wasn’t an issue because many of the elderly were armed and ready. I remember at one time there was a problem with someone stealing checks out of the mailboxes. I never heard about a police investigation or a city-wide initiative. The only thing I knew was that the problem was solved. I think the solution may have come from ladies like Ma Gussie and her neighbor Miss Daisy who had their pistols lock and loaded.


On Fridays I would spend the night. Ma Gussie and I would spend time talking, watching TV, and eating ice cream with Nilla Wafers. While watching movies, Ma Gussie would reassure me that the lead character would not die. Each time I’d ask why, she would reply, “Because he play the picture.”

Ma Gussie didn’t have much of a formal education, yet she taught me more than any college or university. She taught me how to live a respectable life, love with all my heart, and to laugh even when you feel like crying. To her, living a respectable life was not dependent upon the number of possessions you obtained. Instead, a respectable life is one where people can look to you and learn from you successes and your shortfalls. Ma Gussie showed this principle every Sunday. She would get up and put on her Sunday Best. When she walked into church, she was the esteemed matriarch. When anyone looked at her, they didn’t see what she’d been through. Instead, they saw a woman who triumphed over segregation, racial hatred, and abuse.

Like all families, my family has a few fruits and nuts in the family tree. That didn’t matter to Ma Gussie. She loved us all, from the ones that made straight A’s to the ones that acted like dumb A’s. She showed us how to love unconditionally with no strings attached. It was this type of love that has been with me through my lowest moments. It was this type of love that let me know that I was never alone.

When Ma Gussie laughed she would cover her mouth like Celie from The Color Purple. I had a knack of making her laugh. Sometimes making her laugh helped me to avoid swift punishment. Ma Gussie even laughed when she was hurt and felt like crying. This lesson helped me when our 5 month old grandson, Justice died. Proverbs 17:22 tells us that a joyful heart is good medicine. Ma Gussie was not a physician, but she knew that laughter’s medicine would help us make it through.

Ma Gussie left us in 1991. I will always cherish the time we had together. In Bill Wither’s Grandma’s Hands , he sang, “…but I don’t have Grandma anymore, when I get to heaven I’ll be looking for…” I know I’ll be looking for Ma Gussie. I wonder if heaven has ice cream and Nilla Wafers?

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