Ellaraino, 72, grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950s. When was 16 she had one thing on her mind: boys. Her parents thought that was trouble, so they sent her to Louisiana to live with her great-grandmother Silvia for the summer. They’d never met before and Ellaraino didn’t want to spend her time with a senile old woman. But as she tells her friend Baki AnNur, she was soon enthralled by Silvia’s stories. She came to StoryCorps in Los Angeles to talk about what she learned that summer.
Ellaraino (E): I was in love with Tyrone. My relationship was heating up. (laughing)
And my parents knew that, so they had to take charge. Mother told me we would be spending the summer in the South. And that’s where I was going to be introduced to my great-grandmother Silvia. She was 106 years old. And I just didn’t want to spend time with a senile old woman. But four days later, we were in Farmerville, Louisiana.
Driving on this old road I saw this log cabin. And I noticed on the front porch that was her. She had a slender, you know, almost frail frame. But I still found her to be regal looking. And at night she would tell her stories. When the Civil War ended, she was my age. She was 16. She said even though she had freedom, not knowing how to read and write made her feel like a jig-saw puzzle with some of the pieces missing. And when she was 85 years old, she said, ”It stops here.”
She got help from grown-ups, and you know, and sometimes from children. And she would study on her own. And then she told me she had something special to show me. She went to a cedar chest at the foot of her bed and opened it up and when I saw what it was I was wondering, Why is she bringing me this old, tattered church fan? But when she turned it over, scrawled on the back of that fan she had printed ”Silvia.”
She had told me when she could spell her name that was when she got her freedom. You know, she passed in 1965. But Grandma Silvia is living on in my heart.