“A Haiku for Maw Maw”

Eat Organic
Save Money
Listen to sages
Practice kindness and interdependence

As a child, I was left in the care of my grandmother Mattie Smith aka Maw Maw (1902-1989) a lot. I was one of no less than 15 grandchildren that Maw Maw cared for as our parents worked, struggled, lived, and loved. See the thing is, Maw Maw wasn’t my biological grandmother. I grew up in San Diego, California and my biological grandmother remained in Oklahoma where my mother’s family resided. Her sister Mattie who lived in San Diego adopted me as one of her grandchildren. Not formally. This happens a lot in the black community. It’s how we get through. So, Maw Maw is the only grandmother I knew, and she and others never made any differentiation between me and the other grandchildren. When she died I was right there with the other grandchildren and listed in the obituary as her grandchild. When she died, it was like I died too. I’m rediscovering that not only has Maw Maw lived in me my whole life, but also a lot of who I am and still strive to be is because of her—hence my haiku.

I was especially close to Maw Maw because I was the only child in my age cohort. The rest of my cousins were either much younger or much older. So, by the time I was 5-years old I was glued to her hip all day as my mother worked. Eat Organic—Maw Maw grew all of her vegetables in the yard. In San Diego you can grow vegetables year round. So, as the organic food movement exploded on the scene it wasn’t new to me. Nobody had to tell me to eat organic, Maw Maw had already taught me that. Save Money—I had a coin collection as a child. I liked saving the little dimes because they had women on them! I would give them to Maw Maw and she would save them for me by hiding them in the mattress. Listen to Sages—Maw Maw didn’t have to say a whole lot, she showed us how to live, love, handle money, and eat by how she lived her life! She taught me to trust the land (“this over here you can’t eat” “do not eat these”) and to trust the sages. One day when she went in the house to do something, I used it as an opportunity to eat something she had warned me about. I ran right over to  a hot pepper and bit into it like an apple. I screamed so loudly the whole neighborhood came running. Convinced I was gonna die, I told them to call the ambulance! I was the laugh of the family after that and I’m still reminded of biting into that habanero pepper. Practice Kindness and Interdependence—Maw Maw never yelled and never spanked. To this day, I’ve never seen anybody that loving. She raised all the kids as our parents made a living. She raised my mom’s kids, her two daughters and all their kids, and as her grandchildren got older she raised their kids. Raising us was her work. Remembering and putting her legacy to practice is mine.

For more information about Sheryl Burke go to: