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The Things That Died With My Grandmother

There were four generations of us living in that house. Our family was spread out over three, no, four places back then. I was a baby. Grandma’s favorite. I was born to a girl of fourteen, born to a young woman of twenty, born to a girl of seventeen. I called my mother Tracey then Ma, my grandmother was Mommy and Grandma is Grandma. The data says we shouldn’t have made it. Grandma’s prayers promised me I would. 

On Fridays we ate fish and grits, Saturday was for karate movies and we went to church on Sunday. I sat next to my grandmother in the back and then slept in my great-grandmother’s lap during the sermon. My mother sang in the choir. Granddaddy was home cooking ribs on the grill.

He built pools. Built one for us when I was five. I walked in the drying cement before Grandma walked me to kindergarten. He didn’t read well, so I learned. I was 2. I read the newspaper to him. The bible with Grandma. I listened outside her door when she prayed. I wanted to be a preacher.

Grandma came from North Carolina, Mommy and Aunt Eleanor were born in Maryland, but my family is from New Jersey. They left loved ones, Jim Crow and demons they carried memories of Down South. Granddaddy left a daughter. They came to Plainfield and made a family, they made a legacy, they made me.

We grew up on the West End. We went to Clinton, Hubbard, and Plainfield High. I made a detour at Jefferson. I had my mother’s teachers. I remember her high school graduation, but not mine. I cried myself to sleep in my grandfather’s recliner each night waiting for my mother to come home from college freshman year.

I lived with Mommy. She stayed up late with me so I could read or watch the Lakers. She woke us up at 9 am every Saturday to clean the house. We took a break to watch “Soul Train”. Then we went shopping.

We bought underwear from Dee & Dee, sneakers from Neat Feet, Grandma had credit cards at A&S, Sears, and Caldor. Granddaddy had a new Cadillac every two years. The family went to see “Mama, I Want to Sing” and I danced in the Apollo lobby. We were poor. I didn’t know we were poor. Mommy changed a digit in her Social. My allowance was $2. We weren’t poor in the ’90s. We bought homes on the East End. Granddaddy finally made it to Acapulco.  

Aunt Nor stayed in the projects, we were around the corner on Second Street. We all lived at Grandma’s. Greg stayed in the basement, Aunt Helen had the blue room, then it was Shaukar’s, mine for a year, then Aunt Nor’s, then Perry’s, then Reggie’s. Charlene came up from North Carolina for a little while and then was sent back. She had Auntie C’s room. Then my mom had that room when Tranae was born. Me and Danielle lived with Mommy and Ronnie. I slept on the floor. Perry and Reggie were always in and out of the house. Always in the streets. Always in and out of jail. Stacy killed a cop. Gerald Miller died in the little room.

Grandma loved her kitchen. There was always a plate waiting for Granddaddy when he came home. A chocolate cake waiting for me after I finished my homework. I didn’t like vegetables. I had fried chicken instead of turkey and ham on holidays. The dream book was in the junk drawer. That kitchen smelled like home. 

The living room held Thanksgiving and Sunday dinner, bible study, my birthday gifts covered the table and it’s where we watched Motown 25 and the first episode of “The Cosby Show”.  You could sit in Granddaddy’s chair until he to “skaboose”. Well, it was really the dining room, but we lived there. Love lived there. Jesus lived there. The Christmas tree stood in the real living room and the closet where I cried when Magic retired. He had HIV. Three years later my grandmother did too. Shaukar and Reggie too. 

I grew up, they got older. I watched Westerns with Granddaddy, The Color Purple with Grandma. Aunt Nor baked my cakes now. I worked a full-time job. They still gave me money. We hit the lottery. We didn't. The clerk gave Reggie a copy of yesterday's winning numbers. Perry went for a walk. He was gone in 2010. Then Aunt Nor. Then Reggie.

In 1982 my mother moved into her dorm at Fairleigh Dickinson and Mommy cleaned the room. Two years later, my aunt moved into a room on the same campus and Mommy cleaned that room. In 1996 I moved into a college dorm. Mommy was unable to clean the room, but she was there directing my mother. Nine days later she was gone.

Mommy died on the couch. Ronnie died in ‘04. Grandma died in her bed on Thanksgiving. Granddaddy died eight months later, a week before my 30th birthday. All of them gone before I turned 30. So many parts of me died with them. We lost Grandma’s house.

They don’t sing “Down by the Riverside” in church anymore. We don’t go to church as a family anymore. I don’t really go to church anymore. We don’t eat Sunday dinner at 1:00 PM anymore. We don’t spend holidays together anymore. They don’t put that layer of cake and chocolate crunchies in ice cream cake anymore. Can’t rent five karate movies, dub them, and return them to the video store anymore. They don’t sell frozen cups in the neighborhood for a quarter anymore. “All My Children” doesn’t come on anymore.

Grandmothers don’t keep their furniture in plastic anymore. They don’t read the bible to their great-grandchildren anymore. They don’t walk them to kindergarten every day anymore. They don’t bronze baby shoes or keep hair in the bible anymore. They don’t make you turn off all the lights when there’s a storm anymore. They don’t bake chocolate cakes on Wednesday and let them lick the beaters and bowl anymore. 

Kids don’t play outside until their necks get black anymore. They don’t drink water from the hose anymore. They don’t believe in Santa anymore, aren’t scared of the boogeyman anymore, they don’t play Miss Mary Mack anymore. There are no school clothes, play clothes or church shoes anymore. They don’t sleep on pallets anymore.

Aretha Franklin doesn’t sing anymore.


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