My father’s mother is the only woman who I have ever called my grandmother. She passed away a few years ago but I think of her always and talk to her often in my dreams. As I get older, I see the intentionality that guided her life in renewed ways.
My grandmother wasn’t someone who you could call talkative. She said what she meant and meant what she said. I don’t recall any moment in my life when I ever saw her get upset and say something that she regretted later. If she called you out your name, then that was your deserved name and unless you made a character change, that was the name that stayed with you. Words were not things you took lightly and they were not things you could take back. This is how most black folk I am close to think. Language shapes you and everything around you; it must always be intentional and it always was for my grandmother. It is such an anomaly as an academic where talk-talk-talking-nonstop is what folk do. There’s lotsa talking in these spaces— the arrogance and psychoses of always dominating the space by runnin your mouf— but not a whole lot of thinking and listening. At best, I am usually bored and, at worst, I am often offended. Strangely enough, I have read scholarship for years that indicates that my grandmother’s working class roots and vocabulary are a detriment to my language skills and yet the intentionality of her ways with words is the only one based in any deeply philosophical thought that I can see and hear for miles around me, despite all this middle class social capital folk have.
I don’t have any memory of my grandfather, my grandmother’s husband, because he died when I was very young. My grandmother was in her early 50s and never dated again. I never even sensed from her, the way I do with many of the women around me as a child and now, that she wished she had a man or was ever interested in a man’s help or nurture. Male attention was never the center of her life nor did she think it should be central to any other woman’s life. At 50, after birthing 15 children, she was still very fly, always looking at least 10-15 years younger, tall, slender but very curved, with skin so smooth it looked like she woke up wearing foundation. Even when she wore the family picnic T-shirt at 70+ years old, she adorned herself with pearls and shoes to match. She was, quite simply, content with who and where she was. It’s a feeling that I can’t quite describe but one that I just don’t sense from many folks. Most people I see are always trying to climb higher, become famous/known/seen, get to a more prestigious university (or pretend that the place where they work is Hahvahd), buy more things, have more clout. There was never a time when I felt my grandmother was looking for something, for someone, for some place else, as if something was missing inside of her. My father and his 14 siblings have often talked about how she would get mad at them for just staring too long at the Sears catalog which she called a Wish Book, something that she considered very dangerous. You didn’t worship things outside of yourself that way, especially if it was connected to whiteness.
My grandmother would never have called herself a black feminist or womanist, those are academic labels that wouldn’t have done much for her life. But when I heard Audre Lorde say things like “Who I am is what fulfills me and what fulfills the vision I have of a world,” I could gather those words into my being because of my grandmother. Why would I ever be desperate for an alternative role model when I can clearly see and value the blackness from which I already emanate? For me, my grandmother is one of the most radical black women/black people/intellectuals I know. She lived her life never wanting to be somewhere else, never wanting to be something else, never wanting to be with someone else, never aspiring to be a social climber and insomuch that those projects/desires are always dictated by whiteness, she lived a life few of us today seem able to even imagine, much less achieve.