Squeeeak! Bang! The old screen door announced the visitor before a greeting was even uttered.
"Granny Alma, where are you?" FaithAnna called as she passed through the kitchen, grabbing an oatmeal-raisin cookie on the way.
"On the patio, Child."
The bouncy teenager stepped outside and flopped into a green plastic chair near the little glass table holding her Grandma's frosty iced tea glass and the book she'd just set down.
"Watcha readin'?" The girl cast a glance at the paperback.
"A biography of Harriet Tubman and her work with the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. What a remarkable woman! Someone our people could look up to during those difficult times." Granny caressed the book absent-mindedly. "How was school today, Honey?"
"That's why I'm here, Granny! In history class, Mr. Jeloso assigned us a big project. We have to research our family tree and make a chart starting with ourselves and going back at least to our great-grandparents. We also have to write a biography of one relative and do a photo display of our family. I know you have lots of pictures, and I was wondering if you'd pick out some good ones for me to share."
"Of course I will." Alma jumped right up and headed for the hall closet where her own grandmother's worn, red-velvet album was stored.
The grey and the dark heads bent together over the images of faded faces and long-ago places as they sat side by side at the dining table.
Chuckling, Alma tapped the likeness of one roguish-looking man, "This is my great-uncle Clemons. What a character! He could charm a snake out of its basket with his smooth talking. Why, once he convinced a man to give him a brand-new gold watch on a chain. Uncle was always taking it out of his pocket to check the time and watch it shine in the sun. He was so proud of that timepiece! He even asked to be buried with it."
"Who's this woman, Granny? She's about the only person really smiling in these old pictures."
"That's the sole photograph I have of my great-grandma Marah, and I treasure it. She was born on a cotton plantation in Alabama in the 1850's, one of the last generation born into slavery there."
"I like her name. It's pretty." FaithAnna looked more closely at her ancestor's cheery face.
"Now there's a story for your history report, Dearie!"
"Oh? Tell me!"
Alma's eyes looked like they were trying to focus on something far away, and she was silent for a minute. Sadness tinged her voice as she began the account. "Those days, our people suffered so many unspeakable things." She was silent for another moment. "Marah's mother was pregnant with her when one such event happened. Marah's brother Moses was about twelve at the time, and the plantation master gave him to his cousin visiting from another state. The boy's mother was overcome with grief, and wept and wailed for days, refusing to eat or sleep. When her daughter was born, she named her Marah, which means 'bitter,' because she felt so angry and desolate."
"That's a weird thing to do, Granny!"
"Naomi in the Bible did something similar. After her husband and sons died, she told the women in her hometown not to call her Naomi anymore, which means "pleasant," but to call her Marah, because of all her suffering."
"I remember that story." FaithAnna looked thoughtful. "What happened to your great-grandma as she grew up?"
"Over time Marah's mama's heart healed, and she regretted naming her girl 'bitter.' She didn't want her sorrow to taint her daughter, so she told Marah the Exodus story where God turned bitter water sweet for the thirsty Israelites. Her mother said Marah had two choices. She could change her name, or she could change its meaning and turn 'bitter' to 'sweet' by the way she lived her life. Then when people thought of her, they would associate her name with sweetness and joy."
"That's cool, Granny. How did she do it?"
"She learned to read and write and eventually went to nursing school. She spent her life helping others. When she had my grandma, she named her Gracie Hope, which began our family tradition of giving daughters positive character quality names. My middle name is Joy, and I called your mother Charity Lou. Your own name has 'Faith' in it."
FaithAnna giggled. "Marah really made a name for herself, didn't she?"
"We all do, Honey."
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