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100 in the Light

Three years ago today, the world lost a woman who had been with it for over a century. She didn't live the easiest life, but it was a blessed one. Without her, scores of people who are near and dear to me wouldn't exist. And, selfishly, I must admit to being one of them. I am, of course, referring to Callie Mae Hubbard, also known as my paternal grandma.

Passing away just one week shy of her 101st birthday, Callie Mae was my longest-lived, and last remaining, grandparent. They are all gone now. Both grandfathers were unknown to me, and Gummy (my maternal grandmother) had died 10 years earlier. There was a lot I didn't know about Callie Mae, but what I did know, I liked. She was one-of-a-kind.

In early-twentieth century Mississippi, life for Callie Mae couldn't have been always smooth sailing for an African-American woman trying to keep her head above water, but she managed somehow. She taught school, and married Oscar, whom she would have twelve children with, including my father. She would lose Oscar, suddenly, in 1961, and be left to raise her younger children the best she could. She would later live to see three of her adult children perish before their time. Through it all, her steadfast belief in God, and the support of family, saw her through.

By the time I was aware of things, Callie Mae had moved up to Champaign, to be closer to where much of the family had moved to. My parents and I would visit her often at her cozy home in the north end of town. I'd often see her reading from her Bible, then putting it down and whispering some sort of prayer to herself. Sometimes she wouldn't let us leave without taking some vegetables she'd canned from her garden out back, or some wrapped meat from her garage freezer.

Callie Mae and I didn't engage in direct conversation much. Already rather old when I was born, she was somewhat hard-of-hearing, and we truly came from different times and places. Finally, however, we found some common ground during what would be our last conversation. Callie had fallen and injured her hip. I visited her in the hospital, and it was just her and I in the room. There, we talked for awhile, mostly about my dad, but also about other things. It was deeply meaningful to me. That year, she called to wish me a happy birthday. A first.

When traveling down to Mississippi on that late-October day in 2008, to attend Callie Mae's funeral, I thought of all the living she'd done in those nearly 101 years. My mind wandered back to what it must have been like for her: the life she led, the struggles she faced, the strength she must have that I had never really appreciated. The cotton fields were beautiful that day. Beautiful like my grandmother Callie Mae Hubbard, whose time on this earth was done.


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