March is Women’s History Month and I decided to kick off another three part series a few weeks ago to share reflections and history about three women in my life who have influenced me, both of my grandmothers and my mother. Each of them has had a unique journey and life experience that I feel compelled to share as there were lessons that I learned from all of them. In Part One, I shared the story about my maternal grandmother who died before I was born. In Part Two, I shared memories and lessons I learned from my paternal grandmother’s life as I grew up with her and she was alive during almost half of my adulthood. For this final chapter in my three part series, I will now share my mother’s journey. I invite you to continue taking the journey down memory lane with me….
My mother, Rosemary Moorehead Farmer certainly had a strong influence on me in so many ways that I would need to write a book to cover them all. For the purposes of this blog I will focus on the influences that shaped my perception and expectations of what a marriage and raising a family is supposed to be like.
I will first share some background on my mother’s life before I was born and then discuss my experiences with her during my life. My mother as of this writing is still alive and well and she is widowed.
Rosemary was born on October 28, 1945 in rural Arkansas to Jack and Ruby Hobbs Moorehead. She was the eldest child in their union. Jack had been married before and had a son and daughter from his first marriage. Ruby had also been married before and had a daughter from her first marriage. After my mother was born, Jack and Ruby had four more children: Aaron (deceased), Alice (still living), Jackie (deceased) and Sherry (deceased). When Rosemary was four years old, her entire mother’s side of the family left rural Arkansas for Los Angeles, CA .
Some of what I am sharing is a recap of some of my maternal grandmother’s story: By the time my uncle Aaron was born, Ruby and Jack with two young children in tow, as well as Ruby’s parents and siblings had moved to Los Angeles, CA. Many African Americans headed west to California from the south in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s as there were job opportunities in many industries as well as there was the opportunity to escape the harsh racism of the South. My grandfather and my uncles all were able to secure jobs in the aerospace industry.
Initially, things were good for the Moorehead family: Despite the segregation during the 1950’s in Los Angeles, my grandparents would take my mother and her siblings to the park, the beach, and road trips back to Arkansas to visit my grandfather’s family. My mother shared memories of my maternal grandmother Ruby being a good cook, having lots of love in her heart for her children, and family. Ruby was very open and candid about sharing pearls of wisdom about life: especially given the fact that she had a child at fourteen and did not want any of her children to start having children until they were adults.
Unfortunately, by the time Rosemary turned twelve, things took a downward spiral for the Moorehead family. My grandfather lost his job and given that he was the sole breadwinner in the family, the family ended up on welfare. My grandfather never fully recovered from the fact that he lost his job and could not provide for his family. According to my mother and her siblings, he began to drink heavily and became violently abusive to Ruby. Things finally came to a head one summer night when Ruby decided to leave.
Rosemary and her siblings ended up moving in with Ruby’s parents who were quite elderly and had also raised a couple of other grandchildren. My grandfather did not take any responsibility in helping to finish raise my mother and siblings. Ruby died very tragically when my mother was only 16 years old and finishing her junior year of high school. Ruby’s death was devastating for my mother and her siblings along with Ruby’s parents. My great grandfather was so devastated that he felt that he had no need to continue living and he died less than a year later.
Rosemary met her husband (my father) Gaddis Farmer during the summer of 1963 through an introduction from one of her cousins. It just so happened that Rosemary’s cousin Billie Dixon was a next door neighbor to the Farmer family and shared with Gaddis that she had a couple of cousins that he might be interested in meeting. Rosemary even met Gaddis’ nephew Pookie a few months before his tragic death as he would talk about his admiration for his Uncle Gaddis to my mother. After Pookie’s sudden and tragic death (he was hit by a truck in Chicago) in late 1963, Maggie and her family (which included Gaddis and youngest aunt) moved to Inglewood, CA. By the time they moved, my father and mother were in a committed relationship.
Rosemary and Gaddis married on January 10, 1965 in Los Angeles and lived apart for about eight months during the first year of their marriage. Gaddis had been drafted into the army in early 1964 and had to serve overseas in Germany. During his time, overseas, Rosemary worked for Rockwell International and moved back in with her grandmother and younger siblings since she had a car and could help them out with transportation and make a contribution to the household. Gaddis was discharged from the army in early 1966 and he and Rosemary moved into an apartment in the Crenshaw district. By early, 1967 Rosemary and Gaddis decided it was time to start a family and purchase a home. They found a home in Carson, CA when Rosemary was six months pregnant with her firstborn… me!!!!
My earliest memory of my mother Rosemary was when I was about two years old: I recall sitting at a counter in the kitchen and my mother handing me a fork to eat my food which she stated was the right size for me. I also have another memory of my mother bringing home my younger sister when I was three and several months later taking a trip with my mother and eight month old sister to Chicago to see relatives that included my mother’s younger sister who was living with a great aunt to finish high school. Another early memory I have is walking home from school when I was in kindergarten: we had a carpool arrangement with other moms and children and one day, one of the mothers was running late for picking me up…I decided to walk home and given that I was only 5, it was remarkable that I knew the way home. I still remember that walk, it took me a while to get home and I remember feeling a little tired after the walk. When I arrived home, my mother was wondering why it had taken me so long to get home and before I could respond, the mom who was supposed to come get me showed up at our porch frantic…needless to say, my mother vowed that going forward, she would always pick up her own children and never rely on anyone else.
My parents had a wonderful, healthy marriage, and the one most important thing they agreed upon was that my sister and I were their priority: My mother Rosemary was determined to make sure my sister and I had the most normal, stable upbringing she could provide given the instability of her childhood. She and my dad were heavily involved with my sister and I and always supported us with our activities and academic goals during our formative years which I am very grateful for. One of my fondest memories is the way my mother would get us out of the bed at Christmas time when we were little girls and sit and watch us open our gifts. I found out many years later that my parents would spend Christmas Eve in the garage putting together bicycles (and other bigger toys that needed assembling) at my mother’s insistence because my mother was so excited about seeing the look on my face and my sister’s face when we opened our presents.
Rosemary did not work from the time I was about a year old until I was 11 and during that time she went back to school and earned an AA and BS degree. In fact Rosemary’s college graduation was the same year as my elementary school graduation and she started working full time again shortly after graduation. Rosemary also was heavily involved in the Carson Community volunteering for City Civic Services and working on political campaigns. After 20 years in Carson, Rosemary and her husband Gaddis moved to Ventura County, where Gaddis took a role as a city official. Rosemary continued working and traveled across the United States with Gaddis as he had to travel quite a bit during his professional life for the professional organization he belonged to.
Rosemary and Gaddis both retired around the same time in 2004 and enjoyed retired life: they traveled to Europe, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Canada. Gaddis died in 2018 and Rosemary was left a widow after 53 years of marriage. After Gaddis’ passing, Rosemary continued volunteering with political organizations and joined senior citizen exercise groups. Once the pandemic ends, she intends to travel across the globe and find new hobbies. My sister and I started taking my mother places especially after my father passed so she could spend time with a new circle of people as my sister and I are both involved with various community activities.
As I close out this blog, I also can share what I learned/observed from my mother:
• I certainly learned about affection and deep love (Blacklove) when I saw her relationship with my father, and the way she loved my sister and I and her family. My parents were married for 53 years.
• I learned a lot about believing in oneself and having a positive self-image.
• I developed a strong passion for Black History, community service and the legacy we must continue to keep alive particularly to combat voter suppression and ensure that younger generations of African Americans have a healthy perspective on continuing the legacy of progress.
• I learned what it means to have a moral compass.
• I acquired a passion for the arts, traveling, and having an open mind about other cultures.
My mother has been blessed to have a wonderful adult life which included an amazing marriage and just an amazing life in general. She is the last living sibling of all of her siblings with the exception of one younger sister. I am grateful for her being my mother and I know that I was gifted with a blessed life because of the love she and my father had for my sister and I.
I am continuing to live my best life possible…
I hope my sharing of this story is an inspiration to all of you who took the time to read this…
Thanks for taking the journey with me!
Just Keeping it 100,
Picture Courtesy of Jerald Bennett