I love writing about my blessings because I know God has been good to me in so many ways. While watching over and over the video of Ms. Virginia McLaurin, the excited, over the top, dancing 106 year old lady who met the the President and Mrs. Obama, I get teary eyed thinking of my own grandma.
For you see, my grandma who I later in life lovingly called, Miss Ruthie, was born the same year and would have been 106 years old this June. I miss her so much and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, she would be dancing right with Ms. Virginia in the White House today, if given a chance. That would be a sight to see.
I miss the old ones who have gone on. The ones who have touched our lives so fiercely that you know you are exactly who you are because of their guidance, their influence and their prayers. I miss listening to the stories of living during a time that I know would have killed me because I do not have the character or fortitude to endure the oppression, the mistreatment and the humiliation of being a black woman in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
My grandma was widowed 3 times in her life. The first time occurred in her 20’s when my mom was a young girl. It occurred again in her 40’s and later in her 70’s. Through it all, she was a self sufficient woman who was independent, worked hard, retired and lived by herself, in her apartment until the day she died at age 91. She was not dependent on anyone for anything. And man, was she stylish. She worked hard during the week and dressed up in her finest attire for church every Sunday. She also had quite a mouth on her and would speak her mind whether you wanted to hear it or not. (Hmmmm….sounds a lot like me.) Half the time I would get upset with something she was trying to tell me to do, while I was wanting to do it my way. But I respected her, held my peace and knew she was going to say it whether I wanted to hear it or not.
She took her first airplane ride with my sister and I when she was 64 years old. We took her to Jamaica and she had a ball. That was the first time for her in seeing an ocean and putting on a swimsuit. We could not get her out of the water! In fact, my sister and I were blessed to be able to do lots of fun things with our grandma. She loved just getting in the car and riding anywhere, anytime. And with me always in the streets, it was a given that I would pick her up on Saturday mornings and go to breakfast and head out to the stores. She called every morning to check on all of us and often again at night to see how our day went. We did not look at it as intrusive, but as an expectation. It was our norm. She loved my sons unconditionally and they loved her. Often, she would come to visit me when I moved to Wisconsin and stay for a few weeks at a time. She was a part of the village I needed to raise my sons. I was so grateful for her.
Fortunately my sister spent many hours asking her questions about being a little girl in the 1920’s and into the 30’s and 40’s, and my sister recorded it. She also told us about living as a black woman in the South during the Jim Crow times and shared many personal stories, which to this day enrages me. I wish I had her endurance and her forgiveness. I remember in the 70’s, visiting her hometown in Tennessee and staying at a local hotel. She could not believe we were allowed to stay there and was hesitant cause she did not want to get into trouble. Lord, have mercy, I still remember taking her hand, walking her to her room and telling her, I dare anyone to say anything to us and I dare anyone to try to stop us. For whether you realize it or not Jim Crow has never fully died. It just went undercover in another form of presentation. Dealing with racism is a struggle that I often lose when it comes to taking the high road. I have a rage that bubbles just below the surface and often erupts when I feel the injustice. (I know I am a work in progress.) But I treasure the tapes we have of her and it brings many tears to my eyes to remember who we have lost.
I encourage all of you who have aging family to talk to them. Ask them about the stories of their lives. For you see, when they are gone, the stories are gone with them. You can learn some history and try to put it together, but the stories that weaves through the history can never be recovered without their first hand accounts. Hug them, kiss them, tell them you love them over and over and teach your children to honor them. For they are a gift from God and they will never pass this way again….