In Memoriam: My Grandma

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.

9 thoughts on “In Memoriam: My Grandma

  1. My maternal grandmother passed away 2 Mondays ago. Your grandmother sounds a lot like my own. My heart goes out to you.

  2. Aww, Kenyon, chile, now you got me remembering my Grammee, who died on Marcus Garvey’s birthday in 2001, while she was packing her bags for a trip to NYC to go to a party. Grammee was 94. We got lots to learn from our grandmothers…

  3. my great grandmother passed away 4 years ago. she rode a bicycle wearing trousers in 1920’s Sri lanka & smoked a pipe till her late 80’s (even at 92 in the hospital she was trying to convince me to sneak her in a cigar). her drinks were whiskey n brandy. and she held a household together through three wars. thank you, kenyon for sharing with us a glimpse of your grandmother & the part of her spirit that lives in you. the world can feel mad lonely during the loss of an elder that’s got your back. sending you breath

  4. What a beautiful portrait of your grandmother you have painted. The older I get the more I realize that I am a wonderful combination of all of the people who have raised me. Like you my granny who is 84 has always embodied unconditional love, and has always supported everything I have ever done. We are the free spirits that we are today because of people like our grannies who dared to be different and weren’t afraid of what others thought.
    I celebrate the life of your granny.

  5. i wish i knew your grandmother. you have definitely continued her legacy. my heart is sad for your loss but I know she still walks with you and talks to you and helps guide you. grandmother’s are special and yours was among the most special. i am honored to know you and that when we talk, laugh, get mad and be real that I am catching a glimpse of her. sending mad love.

  6. You have no idea how beautifully written this is…A fitting tribute to an amazing life…

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