The following chapter excerpt is from the book Faith’s Legacy: A Haitian-American Family’s Journey of Faith Across Three Generations. The book, published by WestBow Press, is the work of Fabiola Powell, a Haitian-American woman who was born in the Central Republic of Africa before immigrating to the United States with her family in 1973.
Marie always spent a great deal of time preparing us for our weekly trip to Codman Square. She used a washcloth by the bathtub to scrub me and, after a thorough towel-dry, covered me all over with baby powder. After my hair was washed, I spent what seemed like hours sitting on the floor between her she tried to straighten my nappy hair. Then she’d brush it thoroughly and apply some grease to my scalp to give my hair a nice shine. Now we were ready for our trip. It was something I looked forward to, although I had to go through a lot just to get ready.
Marie, or rather “Granny,” always put on her wig and a floral dress and took her black purse, which contained her Bible, and placed it over her shoulder. We lived on the second floor of a triple-decker right across the street from the YMCA. Our apartment was rather small, and I don’t remember if Granny had her own room there. I imagine she did, since she needed solitude to pray.
We’d head down the stairs and go out to Washington Street, which was always filled with activity. There were kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, cars driving by, buses making stops, and people walking toward the square. We were in the midst of all of this one summer day in July, hand in hand, my grandmother and I, with the hot sun beaming down and nearly blinding us. My scrawny, nine-year-old legs struggled to keep up with Granny. Ironically, although she walked very quickly, she seemed extremely old from my perspective. I was always concerned about her ability to make the trip. I didn’t dare share my worries with her, though. She believed that children were seen and not heard, and there was no way I was going to get myself into trouble by telling her what was on my mind...
She loved shopping. Even if she wasn’t buying anything, she’d spend what seemed like hours in the store, rummaging through all the merchandise. We’d complete our trip by visiting the Caribbean market stand and buying food for dinner: salt fish, plantains, cornmeal, and sweet potatoes. I suppose that by the look on my face, she knew how badly I wanted those doughnuts at times, but instead I’d receive a popsicle or a piece of candy to console me. I didn’t really enjoy visiting the department stores and certainly not the market stand. What I truly enjoyed was being with Granny.
She was the first person I’d meet when I got off the school bus in the afternoon, and she was the person who made sure my homework was done and that I was well fed. When it came to food, Granny had a hearty appetite. Her food never had enough salt or sauce. Granny liked her food with a lot of flavor, and food was something that she was very serious about. Every morning when my mother, Nora, went to work, she’d prepare a cup of steamy Café Bustelo coffee through a handheld filter made out of cloth called a “passoire” and pour it into an old tin cup with four slices of white toast and a hefty spread of Land O’Lakes butter slathered across each slice. On her table, her French Bible accompanied her as her petite, frumpy little body sat with the first of many meals she would prepare that day. In her solitary moments, she’d always talk at the table as if she were catching up with an old friend or companion.
Having left my grandpère back in Haiti to come and live with us, she longed for the security, comfort, and presence of her husband. Her conversations always began in the same way: thanksgivings and praises, then petitions, followed by demands. In retrospect, I realize these “conversations” were with the heavenly Father, frequent reminders of his promises in the Bible. It didn’t take long for me to realize that her comfort and security derived not from her relationship with my grandpère, her husband, Sylvestre, but from her relationship with God.
It was an interesting dialogue to witness. The scene played out in the following way. Marie gave God ultimatums by holding him accountable for what his word dictated. Then, miraculously, God would answer her prayer requests. She told him that if his word were true then it would not return to him void. His promises would come to pass. If they did not, she’d debate with him, saying, “What kind of God am I serving then? Are you a liar?” I was appalled at how she spoke to God and wondered how she could get away with such an audacious and direct approach.
I was perplexed at the way she made demands on an invisible and Holy God. Nevertheless, her requests were almost always answered, and she made her testimonies of triumph known to Le groupe des dames or Women’s Group at the Haitian church to which she belonged. Though I was too young to process this, Granny’s unique relationship with God was my first picture of what religion was truly about. Though the fellowship with the saints on Sunday mornings and weeknight prayer meetings were essential to her spiritual growth and development, it was her day-to-day “conversations” with God and her in-depth study of her French Bible that truly grounded her relationship with God.
She was the rock that upheld the family and its spiritual shepherd. When I had a nightmare, I’d run to Granny, and she would always say with authority what I heard as “Satan geronos!” It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized she was actually saying “Satan, je renounce,” which in English means “Satan, I rebuke you,” and that “Geronos” wasn’t his last name! When I remember her, the believer’s walk of faith in Psalm 1 and the soaring eagle described in Isaiah 40:31 resonate in my heart. She was truly “like a tree planted by streams of water which yielded its fruit in season and whose leaf did not wither—whatever [she did] prospered.”
For more information on Fabiola Powell’s book see mychurchinphiladelphia.com