Also living with us in my parents’ house was my grandmother—my mother’s mother. Now she was cut from a different cloth. I say this to mean that my grandmother had her own little quirks that made her quite different from my father and mother. In my eyes, she was not only a wonderful person, but one of the most beautiful ladies in town. With her light skin complexion, she probably caught the eyes of most men in our town but I paid very little attention to other men’s responses whenever I was around her.
My connection with her was one of great respect. I can still hear her lectures about right and wrong behaviors. She never whipped me but would tap me lightly upside the head to get her point across. She was never a church-going lady, but she made sure that I and my siblings went to church every Sunday. Come to think of it my parents never went to church either, but they too made sure the kids did so every Sunday. Surprisingly, they eventually allowed the boys to stay home but the girls had to continue going. Maybe they were looking for some quiet time or maybe they were ashamed of what people might think of them if they showed up in church.
Nonetheless, my grandmother was a hard worker. She worked as a Nanny, helping to raise two local white boys until they reached high school at which time it was decided that her services were no longer needed. Afterwards, she resorted to doing light house work and ironing clothes for people. Eventually her heart started giving her problems so she opted to stay home and collect social security instead.
I recall my grandmother always signing her name with an “X” which led people to believe that she could neither read or write; however, she taught me and my siblings our alphabets, preparing us all for school. Since she was born in the early 1900’s I assumed she lived through a period where if a black person was able to read and write, it was normally hidden from strangers. She kept it a secret from everyone outside our house. She was the type of person who held everything close.
Her belongings she kept extremely neat and she loved washing dishes among other things. I remember that she loved the sound of the big bands and was a huge fan of television shows that had them. My grandmother was no stranger to alcohol either and she typically took a drink or two on the weekends. She would always take us kids for walks to the potato store—which was another name for liquor store—to get a ½ pint of whiskey. We would wait outside while she went in the store. She would reward us when we got back home by dipping her finger into the whiskey and placing it on our tongues so that we could have a little taste.
These deeds however came full circle when one night my grandmother went out, ate some chicken, and got drunk. She normally washed her hands after eating chicken but that night she forgot to before going to bed. During the night, a rat drawn to the smell of chicken began to nibble on her fingers. Because of her drunken state, all my grandmother could do was slur a few words that I am sure were unknown to the rat and to the English language. Needless to say, my grandmother never drank again after that incident.
Her sole purpose of living with us was to be close to her only child— my mother. My mother was the pride and joy of her life. My grandmother was overly protected of her daughter and hated my father’s guts. I can recall many heated arguments between her and my father. She was a short lady in stature with a weak heart, but she stood her ground when it came to my father.