Saturday, April 11, 2009


I may be big as a house, but I'm fit as a fiddle.
- Patricia Devonish
Patricia Veronica Eileen Rogers Devonish was the youngest daughter and second-to-last child of Robert and Evelyn Rogers. She was born on 27 February 1955 and was preceeded by eldest child Anne, brother Crispin, three sisters, Nelleen, Cassandra and Belinda, and followed by a brother, Phillip. Truth be told, grandchild, the story of my mom before she was my mom is relatively unknown to me. I figure one day I'll sit her down and beat the biography out of her. But what really matters is not where she went to school and with who, names or dates or places. I want to tell you who your great-grandma really was, how she thought and felt, things she said. She doesn't really have many bad moments, but I'll try to be as unbiased as possible.
She cried when we went to see the Shawshank Redemption. She cried when Barack Obama became president. She cries when she's really frustrated, when she feels no one is helping her. She cries when she cuts her finger on something, and even if it isn't that bad she'll continue to cry. I was putting peroxide on the cut and she screamed out before I even poured it on, she cried out in anticipation. I looked at her with this incredulous look and she smiled because she knew she'd been caught. I knew it wasn't that bad and so did she. But she still cried.
She's a big woman but she's fit. She was svelte when she was younger and the 3 children she had made her gain weight that she never lost. But she's active and takes her diet very seriously. She doesn't like white bread and various foods keep her up at night. She's been having a recurring knee problem that has persisted for a while.
She was telling me once how some days the knee pains her and some days it doesn't. And that when it does pain her she says a silent prayer and thanks God for the days that it doesn't. I get that from her -- even in the face of bad things, she doesn't take good things for granted.
She always wanted to be graceful. Athletically graceful. She looks at dancers and figure skaters and tennis players with a wistful expression. She would have loved to do those things but she believed she could too late. She would have been incredible if she had the chance. If she'd grown up American... There's a fire in her belly, a fire fed by a fierce love for things and people. Had her love for tennis been given a professional outlet, I think she could have been something scary. World-class scary. Once-in-a-generation scary. I think you would have said her name in the same breath as a Billie Jean King or a Chris Evert. She would have beaten them all.
My brother Kareem relates this story. They're standing at an intersection, my mom and him, she's on a payphone. He's real young, maybe 6 or 7. He can tell she's on the phone with Papa. She says something and waits and then says "We're at the corner of..." and then she says two words. Kareem looks up and sure enough, there are two signs on the lamp-post with the two street names written on them. All this time he thought that Mom just had some magical sense of where they were, when all along she'd just been reading the signs. The signs all around us. It occurred to him all of a sudden, that the world isn't made to be hard. It's made to be easy.
She's always been one of those moms that you're friends wished they had. She embarrasses me around others just enough: not too much to be cruel, not too little suggesting disinterest. She gives great advice - she's a natural role model to women.
She's an unmerciful cook - nothing fancy or gourmet, but as my cousin Damion says, "She puts 'something' in that food!" I like to think its love. She's made eggs for me and, boy oh boy, it's so much better than my own. I thought that perhaps it was the fact that someone else made the eggs that made it better, but, no one makes them like her. Her specialties are lasagna, roti with curried shrimp, chicken and beef, leg of lamb, a mean macaroni pie, ox-tail, corn chowder, homemade breads, apple cheesecake tarts, and her patented corn-avocado dip (affectionately known as 'spit'). I can't convey how happy I feel after eating her food, it's bliss, pure and simple. I hold out hope that I can either learn all her recipes or somehow find your grandmother, who happens to be as good a cook as your great grandma.
She gave me this gift once. God, where do I begin? I was getting chubby as I was entering my teens. My mom was worried. She loved me the way I was, but she knew that she was fighting her weight and my grandpa, Robert Rogers, did too. So, she set me on the path. This new dojo had opened down the street, Higashi School of Karate. She went there, the three of us in tow. I was wearing shorts that were too short. I remember running. I remember being barefoot. I remember the hardwood floor and my sweat falling on it, like raindrops. I remember being so tired and sweating and my muscles burning so much that I got delirious. To this day, when I remember that first class, I still mostly remember it as an out-of-body experience: the reflection of myself in the mirrors on the walls, running back and forth, my brothers to my left and right, this strange Japanese man with the half-smile and the red and white belt urging us on, my mother cheering us silently from the sidelines. This gift that she gave me once, this small decision, this brief moment of thinking about me that, did what exactly? Nothing much. Add 10 years to my life expectancy? 20? Give me depthless confidence in myself and set me on a lifelong journey of self-discovery and introspection? Carve a chubby boy into a capable man? Show me what I'm truly capable of with a little sweat, a little persistence, a little work?
I stand alone and my fists fly. My foot strikes out at air, at the worst enemy that my imagination can produce. I move and spin and duck and yield and push and pull and throw, and then...I am still. And through it all my mom is there, cheering me on from the sidelines.
I have this theory about men and women, particularly about husbands and wives. It goes like this. Humanity is forever split in two. None of us ever really know what it is to be fully human. To be fully human, complete, would require the combining of male and female sensibilities, using one gender's strengths to offset the other's weaknesses. And the closest a person can ever come to experiencing this human reconciliation is in sharing their life with the opposite sex.
Men and women are the same yet different. The dichotomy works in a million different ways. Offensive vs Defensive, Force vs Grace, Hardness vs Softness, Reason and Emotion. But the most important contrast is between persuader and impressionable. The idea that one is better than the other is an illusion. To be honest, I think men have been using their roles as persuaders to persuade impressionable women that persuaders are more important than those they persuade. But what would happen if there were no impressionable people in the world? If we were all persuaders? We'd all do a lot of talking and no one is listening. No one is learning.
My mom listens. She listens to friends. She listens to enemies. She listens to my father even when he makes no sense. My father - persuader that he is - has persuaded himself that the world is a certain way, that it can be no other way, and he, like every other man in the world, is on a mission to persuade everyone that his way is right. He's fixed, rigid, static. He knows all that he's ever going to know, and he knew it by the time he was 20. So he came off as confident and competent to my impressionable mother and the rest is history.
But my father didn't really know anything...none of us do. It's all trial and error. Women seemed designed to understand this reality far better than men but then spend most of their lives lamenting it - lamenting that they aren't more certain in a world of uncertainty. Whereas men are skewed towards projecting intellectual certainty, even when they have no cause for certainty, women are geared toward emotional honesty, especially self-honesty and that honest appraisal is constantly challenged or reinforced by others, even though it may leave them vulnerable. But while a man's certainty gives him strength, it also causes him to become rigid, dogmatic and resistant to change. And because of this, more than anything, men need women.
A woman's honesty is what allows them to learn all throughout their lives. It's what keeps men from going mad trying to make the world what they want it to be. Sure, sometimes that impressionable spirit leaves them open to indecision when a stand has to be taken. Sure, sometimes acting on emotion and doing so much listening to others keeps you from thinking for yourself. But, it's also what allows women to be flexible, to discard things that don't work, to bend in the wind and to change with the times. My mom learns. She grows. She changes and adapts. This is not weakness. My father is the same man he was when I was 10. My mother has been at least 4 different people in that time: a housewife, a seamstress, a mentor, an educator. My father is as confident as he'll ever be. My mother will grow more wise, more confident until the day she dies. One isn't better than the other: they're the same yet different.
Grandtots, more than anything you should know that you're great-grandma loved you very much, even though she never met you, because that's the kind of woman she is. Hers was a journey limited only by mortality, each day she became more savvy, more capable, more sensitive, more confident, just more. Follow her example and you will find all the wonders that you deserve.
- Kamil