I grew up with six grandmothers, my two grandmothers and all four great-grandmothers. Plus, they all lived relatively close so I spent a lot of time with each of them. Until recently, I didn’t know how unusual this was. Most people have to stop and think when I insist that everyone has actually four biological great-grandmothers.
I lost my great-grandmothers in my late teens and twenties. There was Little Momma, Big Momma, Grandma, and Oochie. One taught me how to do word games and persevere no matter what. One showed me survival. One modeled work ethic, strength, and how never to spend money unnecessarily. One exuded compassion and grace and had the best giggle. They all taught me resilience.
I am blessed with the surpassingly wonderful pleasure of still having both of my grandmothers. They are incredible women. Full of life. Devoted to family. Ma Billye lives in the same house now that she lived in for my entire childhood. Even though she is five foot nothing and probably no more than a hundred pounds, I always felt safe with her. She worked in an office, which was unusual in the rural setting of my youth, and I thought that was amazing. Plus she kept candy bars in the freezer. There is nothing better than a frozen Snickers.
Ma Nellie, my maternal grandmother, is hysterical. She is full of kindness and gratitude, but also never minces words. An amazing cook, she owned a small country store and café when I was little and I rode the bus there after school. I miss that food and, even though it now would cause me and others unthinkable discomfort, I would crawl back to that store for the gravy.
A couple of weeks ago, I spent some days with Ma Nellie in Las Vegas. Together, we assertively dealt with slot machine lurkers, narrowly avoided ambiguously-named strip clubs, shared sidewalk vendor Lebanese food, spontaneously joined a screening audience for an upcoming sitcom, fought off capitalistic super heroes, laughed at confusingly-provocative slot machines and talked and talked. It was just an awesome privilege.
All of my grandmothers are novel worthy characters. Their strength is undeniable. Gratitude doesn’t feel like a strong enough word to describe my appreciation for all they have provided to me and so many others. My personal goal is not to waste any pain that comes my way while also not being defined by my pain. I was given a generous head start on this goal thanks to the sacrifice, drive, and love of my grandmothers.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.