Early last Sunday morning, my former wife and mother of our two adult children, sent me a heartwarming photograph of her and our “little man” — our precocious and gifted 5-year-old grandson, Jackson. It was National Grandparents Day and they were circumnavigating sections of our hometown, Detroit, taking advantage of child-friendly events. From the picture, it was clear that Jackson was having the time of his life with his grandmother who he affectionately refers to as “Grandy.”
Their outing continues a tradition maintained for three generations by the elders, both maternal and paternal, who, as grandparents, have made spending time with their grandchildren their top priority. I never thought about how I’d feel or what I’d do when, and if, I became a grandparent. In truth, there was no need to do so as the blueprint had already been established. All I’ve had to do is follow the roadmap, staying along the path and within the lines.
During moments of quiet reflection, I can still “feel” the embraces of my own grandmothers — a Black woman born in Baltimore left to make it on her own after being abandoned on the streets with only a sixth-grade education and God’s love, eventually becoming the maid for the mayor of Williamsburg — using that enviable position for her family’s benefit. My other grandmother was a formidable, towering, six-foot-tall woman of ebony hue from the Blackfoot tribe who, unfortunately, died when I was only 4. More than anything, I remember their hugs and kisses which left no doubt in my mind that, despite what the world might think or say about little Black boys, I was unconditionally loved.
I can still imagine struggling to keep up with Granddaddy Jack — my father’s father — half Black and half white — who loved taking his youngest grandson for walks in the fields on his Alabama farm, who taught me how to ride a horse, chase down chickens for dinner and avoid the snakes in the outhouse. (That’s right, there wouldn’t be indoor plumbing in the house until I was almost 10).
My mother’s father, one of nine children from parents of Black and Chickahominy bloodlines, was a great storyteller who reminisced about tribal traditions, his intense love for his siblings and who raised pigeons as a hobby, often bringing in a few for Sunday dinners — a delicacy that never appealed to my taste buds. He was the first man of color to integrate the Restoration — the team of Black and brown men and women who provided service for and information to tourists as Colonial Williamsburg grew and flourished. Dressed in the garb of the 18th century, seeing him come home from work was like looking into a history book — except this time the man in the scene looked like me.
Now, as the grandfather of two boys, 5 and 17, I often send them gadgets and gizmos, money and mementos, much to their delight. But, following in footsteps far too big for me to ever fill, I give my boys my time — every possible moment making all kinds of memories — memories that will, prayerfully, enrich their lives, remain with them forever and be passed on to other little boys and girls who, while I’ll be part of their ancestry, I’ll probably never meet.
Then again — given the still untapped power of “the ancestors” and the spiritual realm — who knows?