I was born the same day my grandmother died. It was a Monday-July 12, 1954. I don't know which came first, my birth or her death. but that date has always provided me with a spiritual, sometimes mystical link to her, embodied in the fact that we share the same name -- Leah Etta Young.
"Leah is a fine name," I always said when teasing three older sisters who managed to be born without having it pinned on them.
"It's a Hebrew name," they'd taunt back, referring to the Biblical story of Rachael and Leah. "Who ever heard of a Black Jew!"
Nonetheless, much the preccocious 7-year-old, I would strut around reciting it. "Leah, Leah, Leah." "i made sure everyone knew that my name was already in the annals of history. Grandmother Leah had seen to that, having been named mother of the year in 1952 in the State of Virginia (a bigger deal than usual as she was the first black woman so honored).
It was an honor she received not unliklely because of the 14 children [my father was number five] she raised on a dirt farm in Courtland, Va., and then pushed through colleges and graduate schools-during the Depression.
Ethel Waters starred as Momma Leah in the radio play "Sixteen Sticks In A Bundle," the saga of Poppa and Momma Young and their 14 kids. It was written by a journalist and picked up by other media when Leah was named Virginia's mother of the year.
I still treasure the name "Leah" but have never been all that fond of "Etta."
My sisters know that and, when they want to get on my nerves, call me "Etter."
"And what's wrong with Etta?" my mother always jumps in.
She's always been my insurance marker against those taunts.
You see, her name is Etta Frances Young, nee Stephens. And her mother's name is Mary Etta Stephens, nee Branchcombe.
I've got some mystical links with "Etta" too. CAPTION: Illustrations 1 through 3, no caption, O. Soglow; Copyright (c) 1932, 1960 The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.