Hugs and kisses. Ice cream cones on the front step as the summer sun sets in a haze. New experiences, new horizons, new conquests. And of course, all of the sugary delights a child could want, and a parent could disdain. Memories of love. Timeless wisdom from my Grandmom Ethel.
I would visit my grandmother out of state every summer, well into my teen years. She doted on me, my siblings and my cousins. With her, I was introduced to Mickey and Minnie at Disney World; I felt the cooling mist splashing off the water at Niagara Falls; and I marveled at the grandeur of the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building in New York City. Being world travelers was not enough. She kept our tummies full and each sweet tooth satisfied with ice cream, chocolates, and other goodies. But she also made sure we knew that drive thru did not mean good food. The exposure she gave me, and times I had with her, are unforgettable.
Yet in spite of all of those memories, I think some of the things I remember most about her are the intangibles. My grandmom was an amazing woman, and by living her life, she left a mark in my life that can never be erased.
Grandmom Ethel taught me how to rely on God. Her faith in God, and relationship with Him, amazed me. The strongest thing I heard her say, to express displeasure, was “Oh cheese and crackers!” (Yes, seriously.) It makes me laugh now, but in the midst of observing others who had different standards, her commitment to church every Sunday, to constant prayer, and to pointing out what was wrong and how to fix it, were incredible. She possessed an unwavering trust in God. I knew I wanted what she had.
I learned that manners matter. My brother and sister and I, along with our favorite cousins, would sit in church and talk and giggle while the pastor was preaching. That is, until Grandmom gave us that look. You know the look – the one that sends shivers down your spine and makes you sure that you don’t want to find out what comes next if you continue to disobey. Good manners and respect went hand in hand with Grandmom. Don’t speak while others are talking, especially an adult. Say “yes ma’am,” and “no sir.” Speak to each adult you encounter. Honor your parents and your elders. And as for backtalk … let’s just say I still have a shiver down my spine thinking about that one. But her painstaking efforts to instill that respect in us still carries me today … as I put it into my own little guys.
My grandmother was strength, personified. I observed her when her husband died: Pop Pop was relatively young, and at his passing, she became a young widow. Instead of shrinking back, she pressed forward and forged a new path for herself. She traveled (many times with us in tow), fostered new friendships, became even more involved in church, and took up walking! I get my love of walking outdoors and breathing in that fresh air from her. When I was too young to understand exactly what was wrong, other than that Grandmom was sick, I watched her battle illness – and win. Feeling sorry for herself was never an option. Even when she ultimately succumbed to Alzheimer’s and its painful theft of all the memories she held dear, she soldiered on with dignity and grace.
I lost my grandmother in 2010, two weeks before Christmas. It was already a difficult time for me, and her death was a devastating blow. But as I look back, instead of calling up that hurt, I choose to remember all that she gave me. She was a gem, truly precious and rare, and I miss her dearly. My prayer is to impact future generations just as she did, and one day have them be thankful for their lessons . . . from Grandmom LaKeisha.