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June 18, 2008 in First Meeting | Leave a comment

When my newfound grandmother, Betty Reid Soskin, opened the door she gasped, “I feel like I’m looking at myself in the mirror from fifty years ago!”

It’s true, the similarities were amazing. We share the same color hair, skin, eyes. But what struck me as I walked around the house was the thought, this is a black person’s home.

The walls were decorated with black art, there were crafts from Africa and bookshelves filled with books on black history. I wondered, when people enter my home, do they think to themselves, a white person lives here? It was bizarre to think that two persons with the same color skin define themselves so differently.


She is, in fact, Creole, which is a mixture of black, Spanish, French and Native American. It’s funny, I have always told people I am part black, and their usual reaction is an incredulous, “Sure...”, probably because of the way I’m physically built. I have about as much ‘junk-in-the-trunk’ as a ten-year-old Asian boy.

I never felt Asian, in spite of my “roots” (’Asian Indian’ is p.c. for ‘East Indian’). I’m excited to know I am Spanish and French, since I have always felt a connection with Latinos.

We decided to go for an early dinner at an Italian restaurant on the water called Salute. We had to take separate cars since she had an engagement that evening, so Grandma said to follow her. She sped away in her little red BMW, and I tried to keep up, but I had to run two red lights so as not to lose her. What a woman!

Dinner was short but delightful. I asked Grandma questions about her work, and she paused to think carefully before each answer. She made me feel like my questions were important to her, and that made me feel important.


Rosie Reid Funk
Rosie Reid Funk


She had to rush off for her appointment (we found out later she was giving a speech), and left my dad and I to talk and to stare at our own reflections in the mirror on the opposite wall. Our appearance was not the most striking similarity. The way we think is so alike that already we were finishing each other’s thoughts.

We discussed the musicality of speech, and when we got back in the car I played for him a recording from my iPod of Langston Hughes himself reading his poem




“The Weary Blues”

(For best effect, you must read this out loud):

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway ….
He did a lazy sway ….
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.

O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan–
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more–
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied–
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

“That poem says a lot about you,” my dad said, but he didn’t say what.


When we arrived back at Grandma’s house, we were greeted outside by my Uncle David and three shyly smiling cousins, Rhico, Tamaya and Alyana. This was an unexpected treat. I had focused so much on finding my father that the idea of being welcomed by an extended family had never really occurred to me.

We had a lively conversation and lots of laughs. But there were some sad moments too. Uncle David expressed regret over not having had the chance to see me grow up.

“We feel so cheated,” he said. It hurt to hear, but I cherished the thought that even he would have wanted to be part of my life.

My father and uncle shared with me stories of what it was like growing up as the only black family in a white neighborhood in Walnut Creek. My dad said he never thought of it as racism. He thought it was normal to have rocks thrown at your house at night.




I listened in disbelief and thought, “Are you kidding me?!” I’m the same color as all of them. I also grew up in a white neighborhood. No one ever threw rocks at me or refused to let me shop in their store. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around all this.

Then David asked my father, “So, how does it feel to be a father?”

“It’s easy,” Dad laughed. “I don’t know what everyone is complaining about!”

“Don’t you have something for your cousin?” David asked his girls. They rummaged around in their bags and pulled out their wallet-size school pictures.


Rosie Reid Funk
Rosie Reid Funk


Alyana had written on the back of hers, “To my long lost cuz.” I told her our grandmother had used that same expression “long lost” the day before.

“There’s a song by James Morrison,” I told her. “He says, ‘I’m not lost, just undiscovered.’”


For years I thought this side of my family was lost to me, and I to them, but now that we are no longer lost, I realize I have discovered a gold mine!


Reproduced in it's original format


Grandmother Betty Reid Soskin

Read her story..... click here




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