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another inspired moment. . .

Happy Mother's Day

A story of family in two dates and four generations.

On November 1, 1923, Muriel Helena was born to Willie and Lena Landsmark, two Afri-Caribbean immigrant parents.  Years later, Muriel would say that if she ever wrote her autobiography, she would begin it with the words her father uttered at the moment of her birth.  Said Willie (with just a hint of longing), "No one to wear my shirts." 

As his three small daughters grew, Willie would take them with him everywhere— usually "boy" places; places that reminded him of the sea and his Caribbean home.  He would read to them and challenge their minds (as some others might only think of doing for their sons) over freshly roasted, shelled peanuts and the Sunday New York Times.  

With her father's pride and prodding, three-year-old Muriel cried so hard to stay in school with her older sisters that the teacher created a kindergarten just for her.  And, Muriel so loved school and learning, books and what they revealed about the mysteries of life, that she never left.

Becoming a New York City teacher, she qualified as a principal, and became Project Director for the nation’s first Educational Park at Co-op City in the Bronx. Years later—
miracle to neurosurgeons like Dr. Thomas Lansen and his Westchester Medical team; hero to a select group of people like herself who survived brain aneurisms and surgery— she plotted her return to school at 70, law school.  Her goal: to become a child advocate.

The second date: November 2, 1971.  On that day, Muriel's twin grand-daughters and Willie and Lena Landsmark's only great-grandchildren, Ayo and Dara Roach were born.  The news reached legendary radio personality Eddie O'Jay on New York’s WLIB.  He turned the day's programming into a broadcast marathon in honor of their birth and their father, Max Roach’s, music.

Heiresses to the dreams of four Afri-Caribbean immigrant great-grandparents, four African-American Tar Heel great-grandparents, generations of enslaved Africans, and millennia of ancestral voices, the girls were proof of the better life for which so many had given so much. 

Their great-grandfather, Willie, died the winter before they were born.  Their mother was pregnant with them when she carried his ashes to Africa and delivered him to the waiting sea.  Their great-grandmother, Myra Carlisle Landsmark (pictured here with her identical twin sister, Mabel Carlisle Walters), lived to see the girls born three weeks before her eightieth birthday.  When they came home, she couldn't stop looking at them.  In them, she saw herself and her sister on the Caribbean isle of St. Kitts. As premature babies, no one had expected them to survive.  Ayo and Dara were also premature, and on the day they were born, there was doubt whether they and their mother would survive.  We did. 
There are family stories each of us needs to share with our children and with each other.  These stories belong to my daughters and me.  Others, of similar import, belong to each of you reading this now.   

Sometimes when the grand currents and themes of life and lore are told, the most frequently undervalued influences upon us are those that motivate us each and every day.  We can tell our children what our grandfathers told our mothers, what their great-grandmothers left behind to tell yet-unborn great-great-grandsons.

When we tell each other the things we need to know, we strengthen the chain.  It is because of all that so many generations have said and done, been and become, that we can share this day.

For the mothers who have loved us and the fathers who have loved them, Happy Mother’s Day to us all!