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A Tribute to

Dorothea Brown Sneed

Our Mother, Dorothea Brown Sneed, was born one hundred and three years ago on April 3rd, 1920, in Phoebus, Virginia, according to the Office of Vital Records in Henrico County, Virginia. But, ‘ever since her children have known themselves,’ Dorothea’s birthday has been April 10th. So we celebrate passionately every year on or near that date. Our Mother passed away on August 23rd, 2022, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. True to our tradition of celebrating her life, we memorialize her life as well lived.

At 21, she married Stanley Ford Sneed, a zoot suit-dressing dapper from the neighboring town, Hampton, Virginia. A loving couple, to say the least, had eight children, Alma; aka Alimah, Stanley Jr., Ramona, Adelaide, Rodnel, and the twins Jennifer and Jeffrey; aka Aadil and Micheal. They stayed together until our father’s transition in 1996, after which she lived with her oldest daughter Alimah until she transitioned in 2012; from there, she stayed with and was cared for by her second daughter, Ramona, until her last days. Ramona was the primary Caregiver, supported by a cadre of brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and her Home Health Aid, Janice.

     

She and our father ventured North and then back to the South, moving the family from Hampton, Virginia, to Baltimore, Boston, and later to Atlanta. It wasn’t easy for them, but they kept the family together through it all. She reflected on those struggles occasionally, often bringing up the jobs her eldest son and she worked together. She recalled one that seemed most vivid was the huge laundry in Boston where they washed, pressed, and folded beddings for the hotel industry. She often talked about the times they walked from there through the snow, down Blue Hill Ave, because they could save a little money by not taking the bus. They were tough times she had to weather.

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Because her oldest son, Stanley Jr., has a passion for genealogy, he had many conversations with our Mother about “yesteryears,” edging her on to share old stories of her life, the good and the bad. He wanted to know her history and the history of the family. He gleefully listened to all the “melee” as well. It gave texture to the mundane and context to the seemingly nonsensical. He would ask something like, “How did you meet Daddy?” And she would say, “Boy, get out of here. Why do you want to know that?” He got a lot of that. He would ask, “Hey Mama, how did you wind up in Hampton Institute?” (Hampton Institute is now Hampton University.) She would not answer that question but will tell the story of the KKK. She would say, “The Ku Klux Klans used to always come around to the school. And whenever they bring their stupid butts there, the men would go out and chase them down the street.” She would laugh. And he would probe again, “but, Mama, how did you wind up in Hampton Institute?” And she would say, “My Mama put me in there, stupid.” Eventually, she told him that Phenix High was a Training School for future teachers and nurses that would attend Hampton Institute. She was in the fourth graduating class of George P. Phenix School of Hampton Institute, graduating on June 4th, 1940.

She spoke about when she was a Social Worker in the infamous Columbia Point Projects in Boston. That can be a story all unto itself. Especially her learning how to use word processing software on a computer terminal at fifty years of age.

 

Mama always disliked talking about her life, especially her early years. Still, she loved speaking about her adventures later in life. If she and our father had their druthers, they would have been World travelers. If you say “let’s,” they would say “go.” 

 

They ventured from the East Coast to the West Coast when their nest became empty. Going East, they took a road trip with the oldest son and daughter to Portsmouth Village, North Carolina, to find our father’s grandmother and great-grandmother’s resting place. Portsmouth Island is a little-known island south of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, at the tip of the Outer Banks. It is where our father’s Mother, Mattie Piggot, was born and raised.

Going West, they tried their hands at sailing around the San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the San Rafael Bridge, and the San Mateo Bridge. They ventured to climb granite rocks on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, and Yosemite Valley. They hiked in the Sierras and swam in the Tuolumne rivers in Stanislaus National Forest.  

 

Mama traveled with her youngest daughter back to California on a bus, of all things. While there, she again hiked up Mount Tamalpais and, this time, broke an ankle on the way down. Her son carried her down the mountain trail to the car on his back, rushing to the nearest hospital in Marin County, only to experience the humiliation of being turned away and forced to travel a distance to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California. She remained in Alta Bates for three days receiving three screws in her ankle. 

Her foot was in a cast for weeks, but that did not stop her from venturing back to Yosemite with a cast on her foot and crutches. She even hobbled up the trail to Bridal Veil Falls. In the 70s, this area in Yosemite sometimes had issues with a few bears wandering in campsites.  That did not stop her from sleeping out under the stars. Our Mother was fearless with an adventurous spirit!

 

After her husband transitioned in 1996, after grieving for a while, she did not let too much moss gather.  For a period, she traveled again to California for short stays.  Curious about her father’s birthplace, she took a road trip to Buckingham, Virginia.  She found the marriage records of her grandparents and great-grandparents in the Buckingham County Records Office. Our Mother experienced the goosebumps that genealogists feel when discovering a new ancestor’s resting place or documents that connect familiar branches on a tree.

 

In her 80s, she tagged along with her oldest daughter to Aruba, experiencing the refreshing clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.  Shortly after that, our Mother visited her son in St. Croix during St. Thomas’ carnival.  They crossed the 40 miles of sea in a small seaplane to attend the parade.  It rained a bit, but not too serious as it is the tropics; off-season rain is fleeting, and drying off is quick.  Carnival parades are long because the troupes of steel pans and dance groups are spaced out, giving each plenty of time to perform in front of the judges. We sat across or near the judging area.  When the girls came down that street dressed in those costumes that hide no shame, Mama had recorded a story in her head that she would repeat to any who would listen. She would say, “Those big women had no shame with all their butts and bosoms popping out all over the place!” She enjoyed every minute but did not stop talking about those “big butt” women.  She later shared that they were not ashamed of their bodies.

Alex Haley said,

“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do—grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”

 

If something could make our Mama smile, it was the smaller versions of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. But, once puberty set in with a grandchild, it was pure politics. You didn’t come around her half-stepping because she might have run out of Alex Haley’s stardust to sprinkle. 

“A grandmother is a remarkable woman. She’s a wonderful combination of warmth and kindness, laughter and love. She overlooks our faults, encourages our dreams, and praises our every success.”

 

She was wise in her experiences and stubborn in her ways. Try to bulge her, and you’ll be in for a fight; seconds later, you’ve already lost the battle. She was artful in her criticisms, but miraculously, she let you walk away with a smile.

 

Dorothea Brown Sneed, a life well lived!  We, her remaining children, honor our mother with this deserving tribute.

~ ~ ~

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