The Many Mamaw Melitas Who Raised Us a poem by Andrea Fekete
Updated: Sep 11
In the coal camps, neighbor women
watched over us little girls.
We were their children too, unofficially.
Everyone had at least three "Mamaw Melitas.”
Melitas offered seats at kitchen tables, plates of seasoned salted chicken lazing
in puddles of butter, a slice of white bread, maybe
green beans from the yard cooked for hours with potatoes and a hambone in a pot.
When they were all in the kitchen
at the same time, they sang.
Danced with us girls after dark,
flung us in circles, saying
Here, little girl, let me show you how to dance!
Our high melodic laughter
awkward and true as us— all knees, elbows, and missing front teeth.
We didn’t learn dancing. We learned we were worth dancing with.
When Mamaw Melitas told us how to be women, we hushed, still as the dishrag
by her hand on the counter, quiet as the dog
sleeping on the rug by her ankles.
Here, these are women’s ways of knowing, she could’ve said. This is how you withstand cold breath of death. This is how you expect to be spoken to.
Walk this way.
Don’t use language like that.
This is how a man is supposed to love you
and don’t you let him any other way.
I carry myself like a million bucks
because they loved me like I was.
They loved me like I would always be worth at least that. They did.
Pictured: Mamaw Melita Adkins, one of the coal camp women from my childhood who helped raise me. (unofficially) Along with the other Melitas in my life, namely, her daughters Yvonne (my bonus Nanny) and Patty. (my bonus aunt). Thank you all for everything.