This memoir is not for the faint of heart. Ms. Holland, or Ida Mae, does not sugar-coat anything. I fell in and out of like with her constantly and for various reasons. Let me explain. Life was very hard in the 50’s and 60’s for anyone but especially if you were black and double that if you were a woman.
When young, Ida Mae was probably just a typical child from the poor side of town of Greenwood, Mississippi. Then something terrible happened; something that seemed to pull her inside out. She was raped – raped by a white man old enough to be her grandfather. What was even more twisted and diabolical is that the rapist’s wife is the one that set the attack up! After that, any aspirations of Lil’ Ida Mae not only dried up and imploded, but her dreams spat her out and kicked her down a path of loose living, fighting, and stealing.
At first I felt so sad for her. I wanted so much for her to just get a break. But time after time, Ida Mae got thrown down in the mud; so much so that I guess she decided it was best for her to wallow in it with a smile. This is where we use the phrase “wild out,” which is what happened to her until a Godsend called The Civil Rights Movement began. It’s amazing what a purpose will do for the soul. And in Ida Mae’s case, it saved hers. She went from literally being a prostitute to a civil rights leader who inspired others. Along the way, she had a baby, got married three times, got her doctorate, and wrote several award-winning plays.
Her life was like, well, Forrest said it best, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’ll get.” Her life was chocked full of pain, joys, struggles, noble causes, and triumphs. She is brutally honest about not being the best mother, at one point not even wanting to be one, leaving her child with relatives. However, at the point of writing her memoir, she had realized that she almost totally missed out on this once in a lifetime privilege of motherhood.
You know how you have a family member whom you look up to? You love them. You’re close to them. You know them, or at least you think you do. That is until Auntie Big Mouth starts digging up the dead cat. And this time the dirt she’s talking about is on your favorite. You’re shocked. You may even recoil. How could they ever? I don’t believe it, you think. You feel let down and disappointed.
That’s how I felt reading this memoir. During the parts where Ms. Holland’s life is so off track, I was ready to give up on her. Why not? She had already given up on herself. But she prevailed. She was humbled, saddened, educated, exalted, and tempered with the passing of time. When I closed the book, the lesson I took away is that given the chance, humans can become amazing beings. We all can live to our potential once provided the opportunity. And lastly, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself or anyone else is forgiveness.