I spent the summers of my youth stuck to the plastic couches of my grandmothers’ homes. I was thrilled by the idea that my other cousins would be there, waiting to cause mischief alongside me. We drove our parents’ mothers insane, wrecking havoc upon their pristine living rooms and glass cases stacked with China.
Grandma frowned from her throne. She’d get to her knees and pray loudly from her room for all of us to hear, “…and for the babies who are going to get it if they don’t quiet down, down there.” Out of fear, we would fling ourselves back into the stickiness of the sofa’s plastic and wait until she was ready to cook breakfast and watch our shenanigans once more.
At ten, Grandma was slightly annoying. There was always a Jesus and My-God flung in the air, we couldn’t leave the table unless we’d eaten everything on our plates (okra), and we were forced to endure all of her concoctions.
Although their love was never taken for granted, their unorthodox methods, morals, and values irritated my more Americanized self. Cod-liver oil and honey replaced Robitussin and the mention of boys were forbidden until I was well into my twenties. When I complained to my parents about their unconventionalities, they nodded with understanding but never sought to correct them. They too were raised by the mothers of my grandparents and understood the embedding of the memories and principles, no matter how outlandish they might have been, for the children. I was angry with them and promised myself that I’d never subject the youngsters in my life to these practices. Foolishness.
I don’t know how it happened, but the silly things I’d dismissed with the wave of my hand stuck with me. I now reiterate my grandmother’s advice to my fast paced little girl cousins. I’m peeved by the sagging of their boyfriend’s jeans and angered by their defense of idiots. I have flashbacks of my grandmother chasing those same kinds of boys from her steps, with a broomstick, as I watched my cousins cross their arms and roll their eyes—as I once did.
I also find myself patrolling the pharmacy for cold medicine and thinking of the blends my grandmother united in her pastel kitchen. I began longing for the rum/alcohol mixture she’d slapped across my chest and the blankets she wrapped me tightly in—resembling a cocoon. Moments later, I’d be pulling up to her brick home to devour remembrance and rid myself of ailment.
Second mothers are often overlooked. A lot of the parents of my middle school students are either passed away or too busy with their own realizations to pick them up from school. I witness women, 55 and up, trudging in with sagging purses, candied mints and weighed voices. They stand in for their daughters and sons; instilling their old school morale in their grandchildren on the long/short walks home. Many of my students are raised with a live-in grandparent, spend their weekends in their homes or have substituted their biological parent for an older version. They complain about the overprotective nature of these women, angry about their pulling of ears and firm stance. I can’t help but smile—as my parents once did—at the grievances that will one day evolve into gratitude.
Everything Grandma did/said wasn’t always accurate:
1) Rum across your chest rarely cures a cold.
2) God wasn’t going to strike me with lightening for breaking the lamp.
3) I could fall in love before 25.
However there was something about the WAY she did or said things that made them feel right. It’s the warmth within her touch and tone that brought me back to her home. Although extra-strength Tylenol and Vicks are far more successful in the curing of a cold, the balminess of her special mint tea and her map resembling hand on my back are far more comforting. Her cocoon-like blankets and repetitive nature are the only things that will keep me in line from heading back to work when I’m not fully cured. Her laughter at Oprah and anger at the news, witnessed from my sick bed, heal faster than any other humorous thing in the world.
It’s within these junctures that I realize that her old school traditions are sifting inside of me, waiting for instances where they can materialize.
Perhaps it’s the guilt from the mayhem I caused at an early age.
Perhaps it’s a beckoning—in the soul—to come home.
Perhaps tradition is something second nature that we simply cannot deny.
Or perhaps, Grandma just knows best.