Linda Lewis and Vertina Long

Vertina Long interviews her friend Linda Lewis about her experience raising grandchildren, the support she received from Project GRACE (Grandparents Raising America's Children to Excel), and her experience in the times of COVID-19.

Vertina: But I want to give you an opportunity, Ms. Lewis, to tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became Big Mama, or I know you’re known as Big Mama but how Big Mama became-

Linda: Big Mama.

Vertina:… a mama again? What was your life like before that?

Linda: My life, I was like 40 and all my kids were grown and I had planned… I did go back to school. I’m a LPN and I’m a cake decorator and I’m a licensed… I’m an ordained minister. And I had all these plans on not working, but going around and giving God’s word from different church to church. And I love to sing. And all of a sudden I was a grandma. One of my daughters had eight children and she got into some trouble and had to go to prison. So I got all them babies. So that mean I had to move out of my beautiful two bedroom apartment so I could accommodate them. But you know love covers a multitude of fault. And my grandchildren called me Big Mama because I liked the name, I mean, I didn’t want to be called grandma, I’ll tell you the truth. So that’s how I got Big Mama, but now it doesn’t matter.

Vertina: Okay, there you go. You one of them grandma’s that want to be called Glammaw, G’ma. I’m just plain old Granny. And I accept my role proudly, but if you want to be called Big Mama, all right, that’ll work too. That’ll work too. So just kind of give a little background about how we ended up meeting, how you ended up getting with Project GRACE.

Linda: Okay. I was living in the same school district that her children were going to school. And I don’t know exactly, but all I know is I had a knock on the door wanting to know if my kids needed coats. And yes, they did need coats. And from that day on we’ve been friends, I mean, through thick and thin. And without her help, I don’t really know how I would have put them kids out in coat that winter because I wasn’t receiving no DHS at the time. So we were living off of my social security check, but because of Ms. Long, my kids had coats, they had Thanksgiving, they had a lot of things that they wouldn’t have had if Project GRACE hadn’t been in the position that it was.

Vertina: Yeah. So with this COVID-19, how has that changed your days, as far as your babies are concerned?

Linda: Poor babies. I mean really…

Vertina: Not poor you but poor babies.

Linda: Poor babies because when they closed the schools, they were so confused because my kids like going to school and they couldn’t understand why come they couldn’t go see their teachers or why come they didn’t put they uniforms on every day. So it was hard on them, I’m telling you. And they both have counselors too. And the hardest thing was me trying to teach them. I am not a teacher. I am a preacher. It’s really hard for me to teach somebody because if they don’t get it after two or three times then I get frustrated with you. But with the help of God, he helped me and I got calmed down. What we did was we had our lessons for two hours a day. And then they find other things to do. And then what I would do is take their lessons and have to forward them to the teachers to okay it. So that’s how the system worked that I was in. But rest of that day, it was crazy around here. And then I realized that my kids could still go to daycare. Thank you, Jesus.

Linda: So that gave me more time. I didn’t go out the house at all simply because I had a stroke like a week before they shut everything down and I was back home from the hospital. But the only people was coming in my house was my daughter and my nurse that came and checked on me and make sure I was all right. And whoever heard this or look at this, I’m a blessing because the kind of stroke I had, I’m not even paralyzed, sometime my speech get a little funny. I don’t forget how to take care of these kids and chastise them. I sure don’t forget my TV stories. And Lord knows, I remember my Bible and I love going to church and it was hard… The hardest thing on me with the Corona was we’re not going to church because they love to go to church.

This segment was produced by StoryCorps, a non-profit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

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