Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Via The Washington Post:
WASHINGTON - Between Adrian Peterson’s switch-beating of his four-year-old son and Ray Rice’s elevator knock-out of his now-wife, we have seen some really shoddy examples of what it means to be a loving family member lately. But Mo Rocca and Clida Ellison, the mother of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), reminded me that love, sacrifice and duty are the hallmarks of a healthy family.
You know Rocca from his work on “CBS Sunday Morning.” What you might not have known is that he also has an Emmy-nominated show called “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” on the Cooking Channel. During the 30-minute show, Rocca ventures into the kitchens of parents and grandparents to learn about and help prepare their favorite dishes and, well, just talk. And that’s what Rocca does with Ellison in the “ravioli” episode that airs Wednesday night.
They talk about Ellison’s Creole heritage. How her ancestor Marie Thérèse Coincoin “caught the attention of” French merchant Claude Pierre Métoyer. How they had 10 children together. How she was able to win her freedom. And how she started her own 68-acre plantation and was able to buy the freedom of all her children. Imagine how strong Coincoin had to have been to do all that back then. Those were by no means the glory days and the work was no doubt hard even for a freed slave. That kind of mettle would prove inspirational to her descendant centuries later.
Just as Ellison’s five boys were going through college, her husband Leonard had a debilitating stroke. Clida was his office manager. With Leonard bed-ridden, Rocca explains, Clida “had to step up at a time when people her age were contemplating retirement.” In addition to working full time, caring for her husband, and holding her family together, Clida went back to school and earned a masters degree in social work at age 57.
“That lady pulled me through this,” Ellison said of her ancestor Coincoin. “If she could buy children out of slavery, go and amass a veritable fortune on her own I can do this. And that’s the only thing that kept me going…If she can do it I can do it. And I did.” What Ellison did makes her the definition of a “Steel Magnolia.”
Brian Ellison, Clida’s Baptist minister son, spoke glowingly of his parents. “Our parents gave us a script. It was one of achievement. One of moral uprightness, social responsibility,” he told Rocca. “If you followed it you were okay, you were rewarded. If you didn’t you eventually would.” When asked to talk about what their mother did to hold the family together, Leonard Jr., said, “I don’t know where my dad would be without my mom and what she’s done.” In the episode, there is a brief bedside talk with Rocca, Clida and Leonard Sr. that serves as a visual reminder of how Clida’s hard work kept her husband and her family alive.
As for her son Keith’s conversion to Islam from Catholicism, Clida was understanding. “He found someplace where he was really, really comfortable,” she said. “Frankly, my whole thing was if he was devout to something, some higher power, it was okay with me because we are not unto ourselves on this earth.”
Beyond the cooking and the laughter that punctuated every scene, I loved the humanity shown by Ellison. Her willingness to talk about her ancestors and how their example helped her through her own travails was a wonderful tonic to the frightening examples of “family” we have seen of late. No, no family is perfect. But I’d rather swoon over the Ellisons than shake my head over the Rices and the Petersons any day.