By Ashley C. Ford
Ashley C. Ford shared a story full of symbolism at the beginning of her memoir, “Somebody’s Daughter”. One day when she was a child, her grandmother dug a hole in her backyard in Missouri, showing several garden snakes roaming around. When Ford asks her grandmother what they are doing, she replies, “They are loving each other, baby.” His grandmother then pours light fluid into the hole, burns a matchbox and throws it into it; Little Ashley is fascinated to see that the burning snakes come close to each other and go to the mouth of death. “These things catch fire without letting each other go,” her grandmother explains. “We don’t leave our people. We don’t stop loving them. … Not even when we’re burning alive.”
Ford was emotionally burnt alive for her coming of age, trapped in a house where she took the brunt of her mother’s fury, even trying for a father who has since She could remember ever since he was in prison. She took those embers inside, this child, who was in deep pain for relief, who nurtured such a great hope that at the age of 4 she was silently witnessing the sunrise all night. “Somebody’s Daughter” is a heartwarming yet equally funny and marvelous tale of how Ford came through the fire and emerged victorious, his own unreleased, black-girl self.
The memoir opens with a recent phone call, in which Ford realizes that his father is coming home to rape after spending nearly 30 years in prison; And it ends with his release. What we learn in the two weeks between those two seismic events is that his father’s unconditional but simple love has overshadowed Ford’s life; He calls her his “favorite girl … the best daughter anyone can hope for.” Ford sees his father only a few times during his decades in prison; She writes him once. While for most of her life she holds onto a child’s imagination of the family they were before, and the family they will be after, the memoir charts Ford’s journey towards finding out that he is an absent father’s phantom. Who is among the appearances.
Yet at its heart lies Ford’s story as his mother’s daughter, for better and often worse. Ford’s talent as a writer, his superpower, is a depiction of his mother – who remains anonymous – both harmless and sympathetic, rendering the full humanity of this complex older black woman. When Ford’s mother, in this initial phone call, tells her adult daughter that she can “always come home” (from Brooklyn, where she is living with her boyfriend), Ford wants to say, “Mother, I I love you, but I will work behind white flesh, to the bone, and fight every stranger walking down the street, before we again live under the same roof. “