My paternal grandmother died this past Friday.
My grandmother was not a knitting and baking kinda granny. She chained smoked Pall Malls (she switched to the filtered kind only in the 1990’s). She loved to drink gin and juice. She listened to the Blues– and one summer many years ago she took off work and followed BB King on tour all over the country–from 5,000 seat venues to juke joints and “sugar shacks” all over the South.
She had a roaming spirit too. She travelled all over the country and the world. She especially loved Egypt, and had been several times over the years. I remember one year she went to Cairo with a friend. They flew to Paris, dropped their bags at the hotel, partied in Paris all night, and flew to Cairo the next morning.
She took shit from nobody and no-one. She could out-cuss anybody I’ve ever known. Many of the choice phrases I have come to use over the years came from her. She was a cross between Della Reese’s character in Harlem Nights and Tyler Perry’s “Madea.”
As tough as she was, and she was not one to show alot of emotion or be overly affectionate, she was a retired registered nurse for the Veteran’s Administration. She was also really very proud of her grandchildren, and revelled in our success. I found out from a cousin a few years ago that that she cussed out someone who had something to say about “gay people,” which he knew was mostly for my benefit, and her unwavering support of me.
In many ways I feel like I am who she might have been, in a different era, with no children and more opportunities available to her, but I definitely learned from her example. I learned from her how to be independent, that I could travel and see the world, that I could love clubs and bars and cocktails and that was alright and there was no shame in it! Most importantly, I learned from her (and other women in my young life) that a Black woman did not have to be anybody’s Mammy, and they didn’t have to be anybody’s punching bag, either!
I have been told by several people in the last several months that I am, or at least can be, somewhat of a mystery. There are aspects of my life that I don’t always discuss and whatnot. Well, I don’t know why people think they deserve or have earned the right to every aspect of one’s life. Is is because I am a writer? Is it that some people close to me, desire to be closer? And what does that mean, anyhow? What is it that they seek to gain? I am not sure. But I know that I don’t lie–if you ask me, I’l tell you. If it comes up in conversation and it seems relevant, I disclose. But I am not a fishbowl–clear ’round on all sides. Nor do I want to be. I am in many ways my grandmother’s child–a person in love independence, a person who digs nightlife and club culture (but knows how to keep it at the proper distance). A person who can kick it with you or just about anyone–but that don’t mean we’re best friends. And if you cross a line, you’ll get cussed out!
I’ll miss you, Grandma.