Alberta Was Her Name
By Barbara Howard of Independence, MO, USA
Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. —Isaiah 40:26 NRSV, emphasis added
Memories of my earliest years always include a lively, loving, black woman named Alberta. She was always present to me, bringing security and warmth to my changing world. Snapshot memories always have Alberta in the background.
Alberta began cooking for us at dawn. The cast iron skillets and huge pots contained food too good for us. The aroma of her creations floated across the porch and into our bedrooms, often awakening us.
Watching Alberta cook, I soon learned good food must be seasoned properly—this was her specialty. Without measuring, she knew exactly how much salt to scoop from the bowl on the back of the stove. Most of the unlabeled spices were known only to her.
My birthdays were special to Alberta. She picked tiny turnip greens from the garden patch, added them to the salt pork—one part cooked and crisp, the other part cold—with white fat laced through the lean. I have never since eaten any greens that reached her standards. To the menu she added coleslaw made of greens from the cabbage patch, topped off with her “secret” dressing.
For my other family members Alberta’s cooking remains one of those bitter sweet memories. What I remember most vividly are those moments that were just our secret times: breakfast in the early morning when we ate together at the kitchen table.
This taboo of the times—a white person and a black person breaking bread together—held no power over us in that kitchen. For the rest of the day, as my family ate in our dining room, Alberta ate alone in the kitchen—which I didn’t question until later in life. But during “our” time, she talked about her girlhood on a farm; of her grandmother who had been born into slavery; and about the food of her childhood years—all from her grandmother’s garden.
As much as Alberta filled my life, I find one gaping hole. I never knew her last name—never even thought about it, until I became aware of the disparity of the races. What perhaps is more regrettable, she wouldn’t even expect me to know. It wasn’t that important. Or was it?
Prayer for Peace
God of all people, help us affirm the dignity of each person by recognizing them as individuals, not just as members of a group. Help us unlearn stereotypes and generalities, and promote peaceful, inclusive, integrated communities.
Spiritual Practice: Honoring the Worth of All Persons
Sense the intimate knowledge and love God has for you and everyone. Be aware of the sacred worth of each person. Weep with God over the soul-wounding forces and events that rob people of dignity and worth. How does God invite you to notice, protect, heal, and affirm the spiritual identity of all God’s beloved people today? Pray for God’s compassion.
Today, God, when I meet new persons, I will look into their eyes and remember their names.