May 13, 2014 10:10:44 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
In Annie Cockrell's family, things tend to come in pairs -- children, in particular. Annie was on the leading edge of the trend, entering the world in the 1950s with her twin brother, Otis, down in Noxubee County. She grew up to have three children of her own -- Jermaine, Kevin and Rashida. All three of them went on to have twins. (Otis, not to be left out, is father to a set of twins, too.)
Annie can't explain it and doesn't spend much time pondering the science.
"No doctor ever said anything about why there are so many twins in our family ... we just take it as a blessing," Annie says, watching grandchildren romp in late afternoon sun slanting across glorious knockout roses in front of the family gathering place. The south Columbus home is where Annie's late mother once lived. Annie's sister, Bernice Willis, lives there now.
The pattern of twins has become common enough among the Cockrells that what might turn other expectant parents on their ears doesn't cause a lot of clamor among the family these days. Annie's son Kevin recalls a phone conversation about five years ago with his sister, Rashida. "She called me one day and said, 'Guess what?'"
"You're having twins," was Kevin's response.
"How'd you know?" exclaimed Rashida.
"Why not?" her brother answered nonchalantly.
Kevin also remembers the day he got the news that his wife, Tanya, was expecting twins.
"I knew it, I knew already. I expected it," he says. "The saying is that it skips a generation, so I've had it in my head my whole life growing up (that I would have twins)."
Annie recollects when her children, one by one, came to her with their pronouncements. "I'd think, 'Well, it's happening again,' she admits, displaying an easy grin.
Annie doesn't seem the kind of person to get rattled about the small things, like rambunctious grandkids. That may stem from growing up as one of 12 siblings in Bigbee Valley, about 15 miles from Brooksville. By the time she and twin brother Otis were born, there were already eight older brothers and sisters. The two blended right in, Annie says. There were plenty of age-appropriate chores to do at home, of course, like fetching water from the well and helping their father, Johnny, in the vegetable garden or their mother, Laura, in the kitchen. But the old English proverb "many hands make light work" applies in big families, so there was ample time for diversion.
"We played all the time, and we didn't have to go anywhere," Annie smiles. "People would come to be around us because they thought we were the ones having all the fun, because there were so many of us."
The family moved to Columbus when Annie was in high school. She attended R.E. Hunt and then Caldwell High School. After graduation, she moved northward, living in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. But then came motherhood.
"I just decided when I had my first child that I didn't want to raise kids in Chicago, so I moved back to Michigan because it was more like Columbus, at least where I was living," she shares. "I believe in kids coming first; I always put my kids before me or anybody else." In time, Annie's thoughts turned more and more toward home -- Mississippi.
"You always want to go home when you can't go anyplace else," says Annie quietly. "My mama was there for me."
Annie and her 11 siblings were raised to watch after each other. Their parents, now deceased, taught them to stand by family.
"We could always call for anything and they'd be right there; this has always been a close family," she says. "And no matter where anybody was, if they were sick or burned out, we could call them and tell them to come home."
Kevin confirms that his mother, in turn, taught her three children that "family sticks together -- they should be the backbone of the community."
Jermaine, Kevin and Rashida have been encouraged to give of themselves. Their grandmother, Laura, and mother led by example, frequently tending to friends and neighbors who were hurting, sometimes spending the night with the sick or elderly. "We just took care of people; that's what we do," Annie explains.
Faith was -- and is -- a family cornerstone. Annie is active at Shiloh Baptist Church in Columbus. Her mother always told her that being involved in church makes you a better person.
Annie's mother passed away not long before Mother's Day 2013. Her children took care of her during three years of illness, so she could remain at home. Everyone always gathered at Laura's house for every holiday. It's tradition, Rashida says. They will do it again today, remembering Laura and honoring all the mothers in the Cockrell family. Annie's 10 grandchildren will be there -- including the six twins. There will be cousins, aunts and uncles. Things will probably get a little crowded, a little loud. But there will be a lot of laughing, Kevin promises.
Annie looks forward to it. "It will be exciting, to see everybody together and see all the kids running around the house playing -- we're just so close." It will be, she is sure, a good Mother's Day.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.