RAFA Chicago Chapter Meeting, January 20, 2016

  • 01/20/2016
  • 10:30 AM - 1:30 PM
  • Schaumburg Public Library, 130 S. Roselle Rd., Schaumburg, IL
  • 100


Our guest speaker will be retired FA Nimbilisha Cushing.  Nimbi will speak to us about two books she has written.  

Sharecropper's daughter tells her story:

Life from the hot cotton fields to the friendly skies

Some of her friends assumed that the title of Nimbilasha Cushing's new autobiography, "Come This Way, There is an Exit," relates to her 31 years as a United Airlines flight attendant.

But it doesn't.

The title is about finding a way out of her life of poverty as a sharecropper's daughter in Tennessee during the 1950s.

And while we're on titles, Nimbilasha -- or Nimbi for short -- is not her given name. She was christened Mary Alice after her grandmother but everyone scrunched it together to make Maeralice. She hated it. So when her grandmother died, she changed her name.

"It sounded like music to my ear," she says of Nimbilasha.

Over the years, her life changed as radically as her name.

"Come This Way, There is an Exit," a self-published book, had its beginnings in a writing class at Saint Mary's College almost 10 years ago. The course was taught by Sarah Mkhonsa, a native of Swaziland, and it was called "Multi-cultural Women: Writing Our Life Histories."

Nimbi, now 63 and a longtime resident of the South Bend area, took the class to help her get through the dark winter months after the death of her husband, Notre Dame physics professor James Cushing.

"And through Sarah's class, I learned that I had a story to tell," she says.

She ended up taking quite a journey through her past that included losing her mother at an early age ... being raised by her grandmother, whom everyone called Big Mama ... facing Deep South prejudice as an African-American child ... and picking cotton out in the hot fields by the age of 6.

In fact, she would often miss the first few months of school while picking cotton with her brothers and sisters. She always was allowed to go to the first day of school but sometimes wouldn't return until the picking was over around Thanksgiving.

In telling her story, Nimbi relied heavily on the memory of her Uncle Charlie, now 97 and the only living sibling from her father's family of 12.

Although she had had her own suspicions, she found out that the man she had always called her daddy, Otis Harris, was probably not her biological father. Her searching also brought back painful memories of an incident involving her normally loving grandfather that she never revealed to anyone for 30 years.

Yet one of her best memories also involves her grandfather when he finally got to exercise his constitutional privilege by voting in the 1956 national elections.

Writes Nimbi: "I can still see him sitting there in his rocking chair, calmly chewing a twig from a maple tree. Granddaddy's candidate did not win, but his vote was among those counted. This nearly 60-year-old colored man had not allowed anyone to influence such a personal and historic decision as his right to vote. Thanks to Miss Phillips, my third-grade teacher, I knew that the feeling I had as I listened to Granddaddy tell this story was called pride. I was proud of him."

She has reasons to be proud of her own accomplishments. Despite an often sporadic education, Nimbi served in the Air Force for four years after her high school graduation. That experience eventually led to her long career as a flight attendant.

All the way from the harsh cotton fields to the friendly skies.

There is little resentment in the way she tells her story, despite the poverty and prejudices she faced. "There were always white people in my life who were kind to me," she says. "And bitterness is such a cruel thing to keep inside of you."

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