My daddy, Arthur Leon Holmes was a minister of the Gospel, philosopher, tax preparer, entrepreneur and yes storyteller. Being the first child, they decided that having me wasn’t enough. They had to leave an even deeper mark on me by combining their names to name me Arthuretta. For all my life I have explained the origins of my name. Sharing the Arthur part and especially the Retta part is always a great story to tell. While always making for great conversation, I now cherish and carry this name with the honor it deserves. Two wonderful people who left a deposit on the earth. They had three other children, Trina, Keith and Sonya who are also multitalented, gifted and have oratory gifts. Fruit does not fall far from the tree.
Floretta Whitfield-Bryant Holmes was born in New Bern, North Carolina on May 3, 1932. My mother was an educator, singer, entrepreneur, semesters, storyteller, and devoted Christian. I was her firstborn.
My mother was sweet 16 until I was 25. Age was not going to win with her. When her children began to be fruitful and multiply, she refused to be called grandmother. Grandmama, Nana, or grandmother sounded old to her, so she made up the term of endearment Mama Retta. It stuck. Her grandchildren basked in the love Mama Retta had to give. Little did Arthuretta know that the torch of grandmotherly love and wisdom the term of endearment that never grew old would be passed on to her.
My mother would tell her children about all kinds of stories. Sing all types of folk songs. She was a living and walking encyclopedia of Black folklife; she didn’t know it. To be honest I didn’t realize it until I was introduced to the National Association of Black Storytellers. Like a wave of knowledge and wisdom from generations before, the richness and knowing are awakened. Just like my mother before me, Mama Retta Jr. loves a good story. Just like my mother Mama Retta Jr. can sing a good song too. Educating and inspiring others through story and song are the gifts my mother left. This was her purpose in life and is now mine. I have taken up the torch and Mama Retta Speaks.