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IN PRAISE OF MAMMA JEFFREY

 

By Marcia Hutchinson

 

Saturday, October 17, 2009.

 

Not too long ago, I went to a funeral. A proper, a black-people, Jamaican, church packed, dress to fowl-foot, sing-till-you-drop funeral. When I was little I hated these affairs, they lasted too long, It was too hot, my new black mourning clothes itched and scratched, I didn’t want to go and pay my respects to the body, and ‘big people’ were always turfing you off the chairs that that they could ‘rest them weary legs’.

But this was different. This was back in Mannignham,
Bradford, England, where I grew up; Riot-torn, Ripper-ridden, Little Pakistan, Bradford. I saw people I haven’t seen for twenty to thirty years and I was glad to see every one of them. They re-connected me to a past the Oxford and London
seemed to have taken from me. My sister sang ‘Peace in the valley’ with one of the granddaughters and everyone just joined in, we were raised on these songs, like food and water they nurtured us. If you grew up in a black church whether you stop going or not there is something there that is always part of your soul.

Mamma Jeffries died. I knew her for as long as I can remember, my mother knew her before I was bon. She was one of those Jamaican women who propped up the National Health Service, who washed the dishes, made the beds, cooked the food and all un-thanked, unnoticed and un-remarked upon. She was loud, she was raucous, she would hug you so tight your bones felt like they were going to break. She was tactless would, in that unique Jamaican way comment on your appearance whether you wanted her to or not. “Lord, you get fat eh?” When you thought you’d slimmed down a treat. She spoke as she found and people loved her for it. The church was packed with less than standing room only.

I nipped outside to the newsagents for something to stop the grumbling in my stomach two hours into the marathon (and despite the pleading of the Pastor people were still coming up to ‘say a few words’) and a woman asked what all the commotion was about, (There were so many people on the sidewalk that traffic was slowing to a crawl to swerve around us all.) My mother gave the Eulogy and spoke of their, near 50 year, friendship. They evangelised their way around
England and were planning a trip to Florida when Mamma Jeffries died. They would tell anyone who asked (and plenty who didn’t) about the one Lord God Jesus Christ.

I realised as I read the funeral service that although I knew her all my life I never knew her first name. I always knew her as Mamma Jeffries. It would have been considered the height of rudeness to ask her name, you always addressed ‘big people’ with a title. ‘Mamma’ this, ‘Sister’ that, ‘Evangelist’ the other. So now I know Myrtella Icema Jeffrey 19th October 1924 –
3rd March 2009, rest in peace.

 

Image: Jane Tyska at www.newamericamedia.org

 

Marcia Hutchinson studied law at Oxford University before practising as a solicitor for ten years. She changed direction in 1997 establishing Primary Colours to meet a need for high quality culturally diverse educational resources. She has written for a range of publications, including the Guardian, The Yorkshire Post and the Caribbean Times. She was recently the subject of ITV's My Yorkshire. She speaks regularly at conferences and other events on education for diversity.

 Marcia is available to comment on all aspects of education for diversity and issues around multiculturalism in schools. For further information please contact  marketing@primarycolours.net

 

 

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