Look around. If you chose seven belongings whose stories would impart an understanding of who you are and the life you’ve lived, what would you choose?
To tell Anna Jones’ story, one must visit three continents.
You would start in England in the years following the Second World War with a romance between a German nursing student and a Ghanaian engineering student at Cambridge. They would marry, an act for which the girl’s family would ostracize her for the rest of her life.
Then you would recount how the couple moved to the husband’s homeland and how after the marriage fell apart, he raised their four children in a country haunted by the castles of slave traders. The mother would move to Connecticut and start a new life. Anna would learn of America through visits with her mother and her two years as an exchange student in a small Iowa town. Eventually two of her three siblings would settle in America.
In Ghana Anna married, had two children and worked as an assistant to her country’s representative to the European Economic Community. A divorce and unceasing political unrest fueled her desire to move. She took time off and came to America to try to figure out where. She had visited Connecticut, Kansas, Oklahoma, California and Florida when she alighted from a Greyhound bus in West Point where her sister was living.
“As soon as the Greyhound pulled up, I stepped off and said, ‘This is it.’ I fell in love.”
Six years later, she would come to stay in West Point with her young children, a son and daughter. She got a job with a young, up-and-coming lawyer; three years later they would marry. That was 23 years ago. “That came out of nowhere,” she says of her romance with Bennie Jones. “I was busy raising my children.”
Asked to produce seven things that offer perspective on her life, not surprisingly Jones looks toward Africa.
A KENTE CLOTH is a shawl-like garment woven of silk and cotton native to west Africa. Once the cloth of royalty, the kente is worn on ceremonial and formal occasions. For her son’s wedding, Jones had Ghanaian weavers make her a kente cloth in the colors used in the wedding. “This reminds me of home and the rich culture of Ghana,” she says.
Anna treasures her GYE NYAME, a small wooden totem representing the supremacy of God, found widely in Ghana: “Except for God (I fear no one),” and her UNITY, a stand made of carved interlocking wooden figures in which a bowl or a calabash, a vessel made from a dried gourd, can be placed.
She has a china TEACUP AND SAUCER her mother gave her that belonged to her great-great grandmother in Germany. The family of Jones’ mother never forgave their daughter for marrying an African. Late in life, Anna’s mother was able to retrieve a box of letters she had written her family over the years. They had never been opened. Anna, herself, has warm relations with her German cousins.
Jones, 59, treasures her WEDDING RING, which she says, “symbolizes my love for Bennie, and how this lonely girl from Africa comes here and meets him, and they have a wonderful life together.”
She also includes TWO FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS among her most treasured possessions: a recent picture of her present family and a photograph taken in London of her parents and two of her siblings.
Anna’s mother died in June 2013. Her father still lives in Accra, the capital of Ghana. While some might bemoan the difficulties of maintaining family ties on two continents, Anna Jones is not one of them.
“‘Don’t forget where you come from,’ I tell my kids. You can fly to Africa and walk into your grandfather’s house. How blessed is that?”