Gumbo Pots, Tomatoes and Dreams

My grandmother was the best. She is so much better than yours. Why? ‘Cause she mine. She raised 10 children on a less than high school education, and possessed the kind of rock in her blood that let me know that my nana, MY GRANDMA, was nonfuckwitable. She  taught me how to garden, love plants, and the power of silence and presence. She died almost 4 months after I married my second husband, taking every secret and joy with her into glory.

Her house stands empty now, grass uncut, sewing machines and dishes as ornament to the mausoleum that has become her house. The last time I went into it, her bed was still made. There were things in her living room, and dining room, and basement. The house had a smell that dictated it hadn’t been cleaned. The house was full of–her.  I wanted to weep and scream, but I was way too busy to feel anything. I was looking for bedrails for the beds I was getting, I couldn’t be consumed or taken in by the lack of my anchor, my grandmother.

One of the things my family would do, especially before she got sick again, was cook. She made the most excellent homemade barbecue sauce (Like me, it was sweet and hot!). She could make cakes from scratch, and my ambrosia was her greens and hot water cornbread. It was so good I would eat it cold. I would be barefoot in her house, and eat and soak up all that it was to do that day, every sight, every sound, every everything. This made losing her, that much harder.

All I have of my grandmother, and the intertwined 32 years together, is a red wallet, a handful of pots, some linen and 2 beds. The one thing I wanted, was her cast iron pots.  These pots of magick that she would conjure candied yams, gumbo, rice and chicken and any other dish her imagination and groceries would offer up. From pots and spoons, she soothed, she softened and she loved–every last one of us. From that love, I could do anything.

In the summer, as her garden gave us its wealth, my favorite were the tomatoes. She would snap them off the vines and stems, sometimes have us wash them, and gave them to us to eat with salt. It was the best thing for summer heat. Sometimes, I would watch her as she gardened. Her big straw hat, and old clothes, and so deft and agile between rows of flowers or vegetables. Indeed, my grandmother had black girl magic. I think she would have called it, ‘just doin ‘bess I can.’

From that love, and the space she gave to us, I was able to dream. I was able to start writing silly stories and reading them to my aunt. I was able to enjoy girl hood, and know that in her house, this same house, it was my castle. It was my fortress, it was my kingdom with a magic drawbridge that shut out all of the outside world. Her passing made me vulnerable, and tenacious. It made me seasoned, steady, as everything else seemed to be swirling round about me.

I understand that death has a long grasp, and cool, cruel grip, but it was merciful to me. It took my grandmother, after seeing almost all her children and her great-grandchildren before leaving the world. She left us the reminders of all she tried to do, had done all she had yet to do, and all she tried to give all of us:  herself. I supposed all those well-lived warriors leave evidence of their travels through this life. It is up to us to sometimes sift through what remains in order to see what else can be saved, and passed on. You see, even memories fade.

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