When I woke up this morning, among the first things I saw was a tweet from my mentor, Malene Golding, lauding women all over the world in celebration of International Women’s Day. As I reluctantly crawled from under my cozy covers (today is also relax-and-do-little-to-nothing day, another way I choose to celebrate), a picture of another great influence in my life came to mind. She was one of only two: my maternal grandmother, Lucille Walker Harris.
My pictures of her are so scarce. When I was 8, our home burned in a fire while we were away that destroyed many of our most precious items; but, my images of her throughout my life are indelibly printed in my mind. My grandmother lived with us from the time I was four years old. When our family moved from Chicago to Houston, my mom vowed not to leave her alone. After all, she had lost her husband and nine year old son in a double car accident – followed by a double funeral not long before.
The relationship we nurtured blossomed and developed in the most beautiful ways. I’m convinced it was the reason why I became “an old soul.” We watched many TV shows together (hence my affinity for Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, Archie Bunker, Matlock, Sanford & Son and so many others). She was our quintessential chef of southern fare, though she measured with her hands and cooked with her heart. She was also the chief fusser in the house, because that was “just Grandma.” And she was fiercely loyal in defending her family (quite the spitfire for someone so tiny! We wore the same size shoe when I got older [7 and 1/2], and for most of her life she weighed about 98 lbs).
What I remembered the most though, is our impenetrable bond. In the many days that we spent together, it seemed we exchanged as many secrets as we did magic and laughs. My grandmother never finished the fourth grade, but she was a mathematical wiz, a grammarian and perhaps the most entertaining storyteller I’d ever met. She was also unbelievably wise, though I concluded later that much of her insight was derived from a life of pain. Aside from losing her husband and youngest son tragically, she also lost her oldest son to a bitter disease.
She endured mistreatment, betrayal, discrimination, and I learned just this morning that shortly after this picture was taken, she ran away from home as a young girl after her refusal to clean the home of a white family that had been sorely neglected. I remembered her telling me stories of refusing to do other tasks that she felt were unfair and inhumane; but, I never realized that she felt so strongly about the mistreatment that she ventured to move from the south to the north alone. How frightening. How courageous. How passionately she held to her convictions in a time that was most unfavorable towards her.
As I grew up and experienced pains of my own, I clung to her ideals for strength. As we were similar in stature, she often encouraged me never to be trampled by anyone. She despised cowardice and offered many parables of how to defeat enemies whom she deemed as Goliaths with her being a most confident David. On many late nights when I’d sneak into her room to slide into her bed, we had the most amazing conversations in the dark as she gave me glimpses into her past. Some were so inexplicably funny, I couldn’t believe this was the little old lady that I’d grown to love. Some were so heart-wrenching that I wanted to jump back in time and adamantly avenge her.
Much to my despair, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Cancer while I was pregnant with my third son. By then, she was so frail and fragile. She’d lost her ability to speak though I could still sense her fiery spirit. She lived very far away, and I remember a strong compulsion to visit her that day – because I felt that if I didn’t, I’d miss the opportunity forever. I remember feeling such overwhelming sadness as I deeply wanted to tell her to please stay with me so my other sons could know her like I did.
I smiled desperately, but my grief consumed me, and though I didn’t tell her, she knew! I remember her grabbing my hand with all her strength, and I felt her eyes tell me not to worry and not to be sad. It was among the most anguish filled moments of my life – because I knew I could hear everything she was trying to say, and that she was tired and weary – and ready to enjoy eternal life, which she so deeply deserved.
On this day, and every day, I still celebrate her. Next year will mark the ten year anniversary of her departure, but I feel her more prominently in my life than ever before. My mother marvels. She says all the time, “Wow, Carla. I see more of Grandma in you than I do in myself.” I’ve internalized her sayings, mirrored her musings, embraced her epithets and finally understood the breadth of life lessons she tried to teach me all along.
I am thankful for the many achievements of women all over the world that have made life better for those who have come after them; but, chief among my celebrated heroines is Lucille Walker Harris. She is the gift that brought me my mother. She is the caregiver who combed my hair, walked me to school, prepared most of my childhood meals, anchored my mother when she needed help most, instilled in me values, integrity and crucial convictions. She inspired and cheered for me. Defended and demanded more of me. She taught me how to endure the worst of criticisms by modeling from her own life.
I am a fierce contender for survival today because she told me, “No matter how bad you think life is for you, it’s always worse for somebody else. Be thankful to God for what you have, and keep going.” I still believe her. and I anticipate the day when I’ll see her again.
#missingherstillhurts #wishIcouldtalktoherjustonemoretime #myfiestinessishereditary #fierce #loving #caring #protector #strength #wisdom #petitebutpowerful #mygrandma #inmyheartforever #myheroine #lucillewalkerharris #mybeloved #literacylove #carlamichelle
3 thoughts on “03-08, My Heroine & My Heart”
I love that, “No matter how bad you think life is for you, it’s always worse for somebody else.” I always need to remind myself of that when I get bogged down with things that seem really horrible to me. It is always good to take the perspective of someone else. This is very well written. Thanks for sharing!
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Dear Mindy R.,
I cannot tell you how many days that thought has carried me when I was lamenting about my woes. I think it’s o.k. to grieve – and I did – but I can never wallow for any extended length of time, because we are entirely too blessed compared to millions around the world.
So grateful for this challenge as it allows me to celebrate with writers like you. Thank you for reading and sharing your insights with me.
With Warmest Regards,
What an amazing person your grandmother was. Thank you for sharing her story with us. I hope you’ll write more about her!