My grandmother. Plain and simple. Of course, when I was a child, I didn’t know grandmother was training me to be a writer. All I knew were her “sayings:”
“Jewell, child. Wear clean underwear. Always. Don’t let folks think you’re trash. No trash in you.”
I’d giggle up a storm. More often than not, we would be sitting on our stoop, steps leading up to our crumbing brick house.
Grandmother would say:
“Remember your name. Who-you-be. Be in love with your good self.”
The rhythms of my grandmother’s tongue, her choice of words, all helped me fall in love with language. But the coolest thing was the content:
“Do good and it’ll fly right back to you.”
At eight, I had the idea that if I was a good person, birds, butterflies; even silver airplanes were my signs. Even the lowly pigeon would have me ecstatic with joy.
On the stoop, Grandmother would tell me stories. (I hope to share some in my next post.) But, for now, a long, thin street with weak street lamps, bright fireflies, and the sweet aromas of collards and fatback, fried onions, and sugar snap peas. A magical place where my Grandmother told stories, had a “saying” for everything…and I listened and felt loved.
I didn’t realize my family was poor. Didn’t know that other neighborhoods didn’t have rats as big as cats. Wasn’t everyone behind in taxes, mortgage payments yet, no matter what, paid the two dollars for burial insurance and fifty cents to hit the numbers?
Whoever hit the numbers gave a chitlin’ party. Grandmother won the most; so, she always kept a supply of frozen chitlins, hot sauce, and crackers.
“Cleanliness is godliness,” she’d say, defrosting the chitlins under cold water. I swore I’d never eat those nasty, smelly things. Pig innards. Old-time slave food. The leftovers that Master threw to his overworked slaves. But, all the adults loved them, even though Grandmother had to wash them not once, but twice, then, three times clean.
Sayings, stories, food, and love—that was my grandmother. I listened to the candances of a woman who was a master in oral narratives, who mixed literary soul food with real soul food. As a child, I never had to beg for a bedtime story. There were always stories. Words. Sayings. Filling up my ears and heart.
How could I not become a writer? I’m grandmother’s child.