Growing up, most Sundays were spent at my grandma’s house. The whole family would spend much of the day and evening there, usually with me or my siblings nodding off in the car on the drive home, around 9 pm. I always enjoyed myself and looked forward to seeing my grandparents and well, my grandma always had special little surprises for us too. Things like those magnetic board things you can draw with or any other such toys and games you’d find at your local drug store toy aisle (her favorite was Long’s drug store). Ha-ha! I never cared where it was from, I was just happy to have anything new and my grandparents were very good about giving me their undivided attention. My grandpa was the first to show me a computer keyboard and how it worked. He tried to show me some math stuff but I was too young and I’ve never liked math. My grandma and I, for a time, would go through her old magazines and cut out anything we thought was beautiful and put the clippings into a self adhesive photo album. Seems silly and frivolous, I’m sure, but I can see how that simple past time actually helped me so much later on, even through grieving her passing.
My grandparents met in WWII, in the army, my grandma was a nurse. My grandpa was a school teacher and a postman. They were so smart and so empathetic. They never raised their voices in my presence. I don’t remember my grandpa’s voice but he was very quiet, but my grandma’s voice I don’t think I’ll ever forget. She had the best sense of humor, loved the movies Blazing Saddles and Born in East L.A.. I can hear her laugh always! When they couldn’t conceive at first they fostered children. Later when my dad came along, he grew up with a young Black boy (I cannot recall his name and for that I feel awful but I haven’t talked to my dad in years and years). He used to tell stories of their fun times as kids in the late 50’s/early 60’s. I don’t recall anyone mentioning what happened to him or that they stayed in touch.
At home we never had sweets in the house unless my mom baked, and she usually burned whatever it was she was baking or cooking. My dad would always joke that the extra charcoal was good for you. A treat in my house was watered down cherry Kool Aid or pickles, especially in the summer. My family was poor, my dad worked retail and my mom stayed home with 3 kids. We rarely had real milk in the house, it was usually powdered milk that went into our cereal or oatmeal. Before my sister was born, I remember many a Friday night anxiously waiting for my dad to come home because it was his payday. He worked at Gemco which had a grocery department, so he would come home with groceries. By that time there was nothing left in the house to eat. Family dinners at home consisted of mostly ground beef and whatever medley of frozen veggies, rice or noodles we had on hand. My dad would throw a week’s worth of leftovers into a pot, dump cream of mushroom soup and some water into it, ramen noodles too, cook it all together, and worst of all, he called it “Goop”. “Goop” haunted my childhood. It was a grey gelatinous mass of unidentifiable ingredients, but there was no missing one ingredient, salt. Oof! My dad once made my siblings and I a pot of mac n’ cheese so salty I physically couldn’t eat it. My brother didn’t mind it.
So Sunday dinners at my grandparents house were always special! My grandma would always make a small green salad and I would often help prepare or just set the table. I took great pride in trying to fold the paper napkins in new and fancy ways, I had no idea what I was doing, but she encouraged me. I looked forward to that salad all week! She usually had iceberg lettuce, tomato, green onion, celery, cucumber, but she always had a few types of dressing, which seemed so fancy to my young self. She would put the salad in these little clear glass bowls shaped like lettuce. I would be my most careful when assisting with placing those bowls on the table, but I don’t remember her ever warning or admonishing me about it. I think it is just how I am with other people’s stuff. Ha-ha! Once the table was set, my grandma would announce for everyone to wash up and to have a seat at the table.
Now I was raised Catholic. My whole family went to church, I went to catechism and had my first communion, and all of that. I remember my grandma liked to poke fun at Pope John Paul II because he was a few months younger than she was. It was fucking adorable, I can assure you. She never went to church with us, not sure she ever went that I can recall. Maybe a midnight mass? Not sure. My grandpa went to a different church because he liked to sing in their choir (First congregational church, not sure what denomination that is). At home we didn’t pray or anything. We didn’t read the bible or even talk about it. At bedtime we’d sing a “Now I lay me down to sleep” song, but that’s about it.
On Sunday evenings, however, at my grandma’s house? We would say grace, together, and hold hands as a family. “God is great and god is good, I wish to thank him for our food…” and at the end my grandma would add, with her head still bowed and eyes still closed and very focused, “And lord please take care of all of the babies and the hungry children in the world. Lord, please take care of all of the animals in the world and keep them from pain. Lord, look after the mothers and take care of the elderly.” Sometimes she would go on and on, adding more and more of the lord’s flock to the list she really needed to remind him to look after. I don’t think I could really feel her intentions fully then, but now when I think of her voice, it hits me pretty hard. I know for a fact I got all of my empathy and compassion from her directly.
Her capacity to give a shit never ceased. She wasn’t perfect, and she was very petite woman, but she had an air and an attitude that was warm and caring and just full of love. Even if she was chewing someone out for a parking lot incident (there were many, it’s the SF Bay area!), she did it with humor and humility.
Now I am an atheist. I don’t believe in much. Faith in humanity is certainly in short supply these days. And while I wish I could talk with her about the pandemic and all of that, I am more interested in what she would have to say about the police brutality and demonstrations of protest. After all, she was from the Great/Silent generation. My dad was a bit too young for the civil rights movement of the 60’s. I remember in Junior High when I was obsessed with the sixties culture and music and my dad just being so damned confused by it.
One thing I do hold onto and believe in is that we’re all made up of the same elements from the universe, stardust if you will. Everything else is a construct and thus can be reconstructed. I want to believe in a future where the babies and the animals and the elders and the mothers all are taken care of and looked after and are not suffering in pain or in silence. I think right now we have an opportunity to make that so. Certainly I am not the one who knows how that can happen, but I do know that listening to Black women specifically is the key! I think my grandma would agree with me completely on that. Part of me is grateful she didn’t live to see how we (the USA) are handling all of this right now. She was Catholic, but she hated the GOP with a special sort of venom I never saw directed elsewhere. I carry on that tradition.
BLACK LIVES MATTER!
I’m here for realness and sincerity, honesty and vulnerability, I’m here for the good and juicy bits of life that shine for me when I know I’m heading in the right direction.
Rad Fatty Love to ALL,
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