When I was growing up, Mom talked about “Becky” so much that she was not unlike other members of the family that were gone but spoken of often. But Becky wasn’t family and she was, one assumed, alive and well somewhere. Becky had worked for my grandparents when Mom was little. And truthfully Becky wasn’t even an adult herself. She was almost ten years older than my Mom and my grandparents paid her to help my grandmother around the house. So despite Mom’s happy memories of Becky, she was never sure how Becky might remember her life in the Jim Crow era in South Alabama. The last she knew Becky had left Andalusia after high school and gone to college. It wasn’t too many years later that Mom married and left as well. Every so often she would wonder what became of Becky but she never took it any further partially because she didn’t know where to start and the rest because, as I said, she was concerned that Becky’s memories were very different.
For what it’s worth, Mom’s memories of her are vivid and happy. She remembers begging Becky to tell her ghost stories. Apparently her story-telling in general was great and especially her stories of things that went bump in the night. My grandmother, for her part, would beg Becky, “please don’t tell Marion another ghost story.” Because after Becky went home, Mom would be so terrified that she would cling to my grandmother. But the kind of terrified that brings people back for more spooky tales.
Becky’s mother, Nellie, apparently also worked for my grandparents on occasion but not routinely. They lived with Nellie’s mother, Hattie. There were also a few brothers, but the only other member of the family Mom knew fairly well was Becky’s little sister, Edie, who was closer in age to Mom and sometimes played with Mom when Becky was working there. Mom knew that Edie died young (drowned) but what what became of the rest of the family she was unsure.
Off and on over the years, I attempted to unravel it. I had constructed a family tree for Becky and I learned how hard it must be for African Americans to document their family tree. Not made easier of course by having only the shreds of information that Mom knew as a child. And sadly often if they were in the paper, it was for something unhappy like Edie’s drowning.
A couple of years ago, I thought I was coming close to learning what became of Becky when I managed to find references to her living in Shreveport but although it was the first news I had found in years it was decades ago and I failed to figure out if she had stayed there, married, or what exactly came next. Every so often I would log in to Ancestry and see if there were any green leaves in her family tree that might spill the rest of the story.
Flash forward to yesterday, Mother’s Day 2021. Mom has been wanting to try to make Salmon Croquettes for quite awhile. She remembered Becky making them for lunch on Saturdays. We had found a recipe a couple of months ago that Mom said sounded close enough to try. But despite having the recipe and everything needed she had not tried it, so I decided that would be what I did for Mother’s day this year. It’s really hard to find anything she really wants anymore. She said they reminded her a lot of Becky and so, she reminisced awhile last night.
This morning I decided to make another stab at seeing if Becky, who would be 86 this month, was still around and, if so, where she lived. And I finally had the breakthrough I needed. I found out she was in Houston, Texas in the early 1970’s where she got her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education. Oh yay! Not just that I found her but it sounded like she had done well for herself. That led to a marriage record in Texas to Abra Shakespear… and that led me to the sad discovery that Rebecca Jones Shakespeare died in February of this year. She lived in Shreveport. She was laid to rest by her husband, who was also from Andalusia, Mom’s hometown. Her burial weirdly enough was on Mom’s birthday…
When I showed the obituary to Mom this morning she knew it was “Becky” from the photo before she read the name. She was happy that it sounded like Becky had what sounds like a good life but sad, of course, to hear that I had not connected the dots while there would have been any chance of making contact with her.