My Dearest Gert,
Thank you for being a part of my life. We met when I was a little girl, but I didn’t get to know you well until I was researching Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters. You provided much valuable information that led to a greater understanding of our family. You led me to finding my great-grandmother in Springfield and eventually to finding your great-grandmother in Westchester County. You told me that twins run in the family, that our common ancestor smoked a clay pipe. You interviewed our famous pharmacist relative Anna Louise James and provided significant insights into the struggles with ill health and poverty that the earlier generations experienced.
(Side note for those not familiar with the James family palm frond: the patriarch, Willis Samuel James, had three wives, all named Anna. Gert was descended from the first, I from the second.)
During the times we met, I came to appreciate what a multi-faceted woman you were. Besides raising four glorious children and working fulltime, you launched a second career as an artist. Your exhibits inspired many and amazed this incompetent. Today’s display at the funeral home was a real testament to your taste and talent. The video came to life with the photos of you posed with your artwork. I hope this part of your legacy will find an appropriate resting place.
You were a gracious hostess on more than one occasion, most recently when you allowed our large family to invade your yard and house for a family reunion. (I THINK I reciprocated by taking you to dinner.)
Today I learned that you were also a dedicated sorority sister, a great tennis player, a ballet dancer, and a devoted friend to many. You touched the lives of young and old and became a mentor to women who, like you, are working to make the world a better place.
You truly embraced life, and I am proud to be your cousin.