Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

An African Woman’s Wit and Wisdom

I've lived so many places in my life that long term friends are precious.They hold the thread of my life. They knew me when and they know me now.

Thus it is with Alan and Mary Brody. We met in 1973 in Ghana, West Africa when we were all young. The Brody's went on to travel the globe working with UNICEF to improve the lives of children, women, and communities. If Alan's name sounds familiar, it's because you've read Alan Brody's words on Riehlife.

Recently I visited the Brody's in Iowa City where they invited me to stay for a week while I took a week long workshop in memoir writing. Mary and Alan are a "Salt & Pepper" couple who have been married for decades with a brood of children and grandchildren to revel in. They are "very married" in the affection they show even in the midst of occasional aggravation.

In 1970s America mixed marriage was still a tricky business. I knew Alan's side of the story. My father often says that the best decision he made was to marry my mother. Alan says that his decision to ask Mary to marry him was his last decision. The rest of his life unfolded from there.

As we stood in the yard taking down the badminton net, I asked Alan what it had been like for Mary to decide to marry him. "Ask her," he smiled.

Mary loves her garden. Each morning she comes out to greet her flowers blooming in a riot of colors and shapes. She knows each one as if they were her children. I knew I'd get her most eloquent answer while she watered her flowers.

Janet: "Mary, when Alan asked you to marry him, was it hard to say 'yes'?"

Mary: "No," she said simply, and then with great eloquence connected 1 + 1 + 1 +1 = (at least) 4 to share with me the secret to a happy life. Here it is, folks!

1) Just say "yes."

No, it wasn't hard to say "yes." There were other successful intermarriages in her family, so that wasn't a big deal.

2) Go where life leads you.

In her culture the woman follows the man, so she wasn't concerned where they lived--Ghana or the United States. What she didn't know then was that they'd travel to Nigeria, Afghanistan, Turkey, China, and Swaziland during their long distinguished diplomatic career.

3) Life is vast and mysterious. "When you look out at the sea, there is no end to it. When you look up in the sky, you cannot count the stars. People think they are powerful, but when you feel the wind blow, then you know what true power is."

4) Thank the Man Upstairs.

"Every day I wake up and my feet touch the floor, I'm happy I have another day. The Man Upstairs decides when and what. I just go along with the plan."

Meanwhile the flowers had finished drinking the water and listening to Mary's endearments. We eased inside to finish drinking our milk tea. In the kitchen I shared her answer with Alan. He said, "Oh, this sounds like a good story for Riehlife." And so it is.

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6 Responses »

  1. This Janet is very smart, to catch Mary in the middle of her morning communion with her flowers. I believe it is true that the right kind of talk and encouragement helps the growth of plants and leads them to bloom. I've also noticed, in some places where we have come to reside and she has developed her flower garden, that leftover flowering bushes that had stopped blooming for many years seem to get encouraged, and after a year or two begin to bloom again. I'm not sure if this arises from eavesdropping on Mary's talk with the new flowers, or if it's a kind of jealousy thing, once they see the others blooming, and want some attention for themselves. Or is it just the stirring of ancient memory banks (saying to themselves, as they look at the other blooms, "Oh, yeah, I forgot... That's what I was supposed to be doing)...

  2. Alan,

    Thanks for reading and commenting so lavishly on the post. Mary has read it? I wish I could more accurately represent what she says. We really do need Issac to catch her in action with a documentary film.

    Janet Riehl

  3. Sounds like the wise Auntie Mary that I know. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Rod/Nana,

    Yes, isn't she something! When I stayed with Alan and Mary last week, Alan and I would have our morning tea and chat. I'd ask, "And how is our Queen this morning?" She's a power house.


  5. "eased inside to finish drinking our milk tea"
    A lovely metaphor for living life--theirs, yours, ours. Thanks, Janet!

  6. Valerie,

    Yes, and very good milk tea it is! With cinnamon and brown sugar. "Cinnamon and spice and everything nice." While reading the Wall Street Journal.


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