Like many of her neighbors, Margarette Cunningham Moss grew up “very poor.” Moss’ mother, a housewife, taught her seven daughters to do the household chores typical of those who owned a farm and an orchard on Crooked Island in the 1940s. A typical day might include hand-washing clothes; cleaning their one-bedroom home; making homemade bread, accompanied by tea with leaves picked fresh off a tree; spending a few hours in their fields picking pigeon peas, cassava, fruit and anything else her family planted that season; sewing for the Red Cross and herself; and infrequent trips to neighboring “settlements.” The family was careful to use their resources wisely, as they did not know when the supply boat from Nassau, Bahamas, would return with another portion of flour and other necessities.
Each day began with a prayer at 5 a.m. Seven sisters, seven days for each to lead the prayer.
There was no electricity on the island. In fact, there weren’t any traces of electricity on the island until after Moss left her Cabbage Hill settlement on Crooked Island at the age of 23 in the late 1950s. There wasn’t much to do on the island, according to Cunningham. This was long before the Bahamas became a tourist spot; these were the days of kerosene lamps and water pumps. Washtubs and outdoor kitchens. Static-ridden radios were enough to get the news -- Queen Elizabeth’s arrivals and departures from nearby islands, for example. The highlight of the week was church. Moss would attend church one to two times each week, she said. Some of Moss’s favorite memories revolved around church, where her mother, Olive Cunningham, taught Sunday school. Church dances were few and far between and the Moss family celebrated three holidays each year: Christmas (the birth), Easter (the resurrection) and Bahamian Independence Day, July 6. “Not very much to do,” by today’s standards, Moss said.
John Cunningham, Moss’ father, would come home for about six months at a time. Like many men on the island, he worked at a citrus grove in Florida picking fruit and vegetables for two years at a time. “Fortunate” is the word used to describe her childhood: Moss’ father would send them food and clothing. Children were able to complete up to six grades when Moss was growing up. Many of the girls were taken out of school early, as only the males had “the privilege” of completing each grade level.
“We didn’t have much,” Moss said. “We had a good life. It wasn’t an easy life, but we made it. It’s an accomplishment because I know how to survive. When we had (Hurricane) Andrew, I knew how to go outside and cook and survive with limited resources because of my upbringing.”
At the age of 23, Moss decided to visit one her sisters in New York in the December of 1956. She took a pit-stop in Florida that prevented that trip, however. Moss and her, husband, Ronald decided to marry, and were wed in January of 1957. They settled in a home Ronald built in Homestead, Fla., about 33 miles south of Miami. Moss was granted citizenship in the mid ’60s after studying the U.S. Constitution and several other documents. She did farm work and cleaned houses until she became a custodian at the James Archer Smith Hospital, now Homestead Hospital. She was promoted to a linen tech, ordering bedding supplies for the hospital, always receiving high marks on her reviews. Moss worked at the hospital for 24 years until she retired in the latter part of the ’90s. She raised four boys and one girl and kept a home while working, often times on holidays and Sundays.
Each of her children attended a segregated school in their early years of schooling; Moss recounted the story of when she needed to use the bathroom during a trip to Miami: she had to travel several miles to use a colored bathroom -- a big change from the mostly black Crooked Island. Florida is more diverse than it’s been since she moved here in the late ’50s, Moss said. Staying in-tune to the political issues of today, naturally, conversation about immigration laws pull at her heart strings. Although the move to the U.S. was an adjustment, Moss and her husband paved the way to a better life for themselves and, ultimately their family.
“I feel like I’m a part of it because I came here to make a better life,” she said. “I want that (opportunity) for them.”
There were opportunities that weren’t given to her that she would have loved to take advantage of, education for example, but she did the best she could with the opportunities that were presented to her, she said.
In the spirit of Christmas and the start of a New Year, she remains a pillar and reminder of love through sacrifice -- the meaning of Christmas.
Many of us spent our Holiday season with loved ones and were reminded this season of a Biblical birth that led to sacrificial love, according to the Bible. I find it hard not reflect on the choices of my own family members have made that have paved the way to my short time spent on Earth. This column and the one that will appear on Jan. 4, 2013 are dedicated to my maternal grandparents.