A twitter conversation got me thinking about the smartest or most influential people I know and what impact they had on my life. My parents came to mind first and then my grandmother. Now that I am older I can really appreciate the mark she has left on me. My grandmother mother to eight children, grandmother to seventeen, great grandmother and great great grandmother to more kids than I am willing to count, is probably one of the smartest people I know. Life took her on a path that did not include much formal education after the age of fifteen but still she instilled in me things that my two degrees never could.
One of the first lessons I can remember was about being black. I learned this before I was old enough to fully understand it. Her words when I was about twelve are forever imprinted in my mind. When I asked her about our family ancestral history, if there were European ancestors, maybe even Native Americans she responded, “You are just black” She told me “Some members of our family may be lighter than others but that is because the slave master was raping his slaves, I don’t see that as anything to be proud of, so you are black, that’s it.” Let’s just say I had not gotten that far in American History just yet but those are words have stuck with me to this day. Whenever I see the color divisiveness in the black community, I’m grateful that I had a grandmother who broke this down to me a young age, very bluntly might I add but I never forgot it. Also it made me feel confident in saying I’m black and that in itself is something to be proud of.
During these same summers my grandmother spent hours telling me the crazy stories of her childhood and even her parent’s childhood. She imparted on me the mysteries of long lost family members as well. Mysteries that in adulthood I’ve sought to solve doing my own research with some success. The oral telling of history is how African Americans passed on history for generations and generations. I’m grateful that I got to experience that as a kid. In college I ended up majoring in History and spent a lot of time in African American history courses. That summer spent with my grandmother definitely piqued my interest and I cannot imagine that I would have ended up on this path without it.
Then I think about little lessons. Things such as being strong and independent. She raised eight kids mostly on her own and worked hard to make sure they had more than she did. Or having a little fight in you and standing up for yourself when you were wronged. Some of her funniest stories are explaining how as a young mother she had to stand up for herself when others tried to walk over her. Also the value of education formal and informal I would say. Playing dumb wasn’t considered cute around my grandmother and achievements in education were always praised. That’s probably another reason why I was never ashamed of being the smart girl. When I look back at all of these lessons it makes me beyond grateful for my grandmother!