“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”
I still have NO IDEA why Grandma chose Genesis 1:1 to bring God to the dinner table. Now looking back, I wonder if she was telling us the beginning and end was in the food she was giving us. Nevertheless, we had to say this scripture EVERY TIME we ate at my grandmother’s table. And she wasn’t playing about God. We couldn’t do ANY type of work in her house on Sundays and you better not get an attitude when you had to wear wrinkled clothes to church. And you were going. In something she made on her sewing machine or got from the church (my mother wasn’t really happy about that part). And you better not fall asleep. But it’s what we knew about Grandma. That’s why we didn’t stay over there too often. 🙂 But, today, on her eightieth birthday, I wish I would have. I missed some stuff.
My grandmother and I have not always had the best relationship. I would say, out of the six grandchildren, I am probably the one she “seemed” to “resent” the most. I have suspicions as to why but, even if I had the guts to ask her, I can’t. My grandmother is very ill and has dementia. I am the only one she doesn’t remember or seems to have no recollection of in any way. That is extremely hard for a lot of reasons but seeing her in her present state keeps me on my toes. I stare at her, almost with a double lens. I am crying my eyes out, thinking, “how could this happen to MY grandma, the box cutter carrying, self-sufficient woman I’ve always know?” and then I stare at her and remember watching her abuse herself with unhealthy food, alcohol and cigarettes for most of my life. It’s unfair, or is it unfair? No one deserves to have several strokes and five heart attacks but when do we start taking responsibility for the things we do to our bodies?
My grandmother lived in the heart of Englewood. If you are familiar with Chicago in ANY way, then you know that Englewood would not receive any awards for its landscaping or low crime rate. She lived right on an alley. Yet, right there on that corner of 65th and Normal, my grandma had a garden. When I was younger, I never thought twice about her having a garden. When my daughter was a baby (this was just 2004), I had my very FIRST blackberry out of that garden. I had just become a vegetarian. We went through that “garden” with a stick and picked blackberries while my grandma told me stories about how she ate blackberries and other stories about being in the South when she was a child. My grandma actually made me my first batch of greens without meat (which she did every time I came home and she had greens in her garden). I had tried to avoid going out there in that “dusty space”, which was right across the street from a liquor store, my entire life. Here I was, right before my 29th birthday, enjoying every word my grandma said and wishing we had more time to talk about planting and growing. When she visited Selma a few years later and I took my family down to visit, she helped me gather pecans that were falling from the trees. (Please remember….I am a city girl. I only saw pecans on the shelf at the grocery store.) My grandmother walked my children to the store and bought them candy and everything else they wanted. She had become very open and more loving in her older age. I loved watching her interact with them and my nephew. Our relationship was better too. The next time I saw her, she was on a cane. I haven’t seen her really conscious since then. I wish I could tell her about all of the pickings and things I’ve done since then and how I started going back to church, I keep an eye on my cousins and that I occasionally practice writing with my left hand since she told me I needed to be able to write with both. I haven’t graduated to always carrying a box cutter. She always told me a pencil would work too. 🙂
As I look at my grandmother’s health, my ultimate goal is to NEVER be in that shape. I cannot say that my grandmother’s lifestyle put her in that position. I cannot say it did not. I have seen my grandmother just eat large globs of fat for breakfast. I do understand that some of that was just “cultural” for her. It was what she knew. What I know from her example is:
- Stay active. Honestly, my grandmother has had at least five heart attacks. I believe they didn’t kill her because she was always on her feet. She stayed on the go. I cannot remember her ever really being a different size. She pretty much maintained the weight she had always been.
- Eat at home. My grandmother could stretch a dollar. 🙂 She did not eat out a lot, until she got older. Her choices were not the best but she had more control over what was going in her body by preparing her own food. She also saved a ton of money because she bought generic everything. She would probably pass out if she saw my food bill. 🙂
- Deal with your addictions. My grandmother had a severe drinking problem. I think she just eventually realized she HAD to stop. Her body could not handle it. It is the same with everything else we are “addicted” to: caffeine, sugar, etc. You know when your body has had enough.
- Pull from what you know. A lot of us were not “completely” raised eating the way we eat now. My grandmother had great memories of being a kid eating from what they grew. My dad has memories of picking tomatoes out of the garden. After his triple bypass, when eating a plum, he said he had forgotten what fresh produce tastes like without salt. My mother cooked for us. We did not eat out. We ate vegetables. Sometimes we become so “complicated” that we forget that there is no struggle when we stick with simplicity.
- When you realize you’ve made a mistake, correct it. My grandmother apologized to me after I became an adult. She wasn’t always the best grandmother. I haven’t always been the best anything. It is the same thing with our lifestyle choices. When we acknowledge our shortcomings, we can make better choices. Consciously.
My grandmother’s (and a lot of other people’s health in my family) scares me. Genetics could catch up with me. However, knowing what I know, watching the patterns and the shortcomings, the mistakes, the lifestyle choices, I choose to do different and still hold the lessons close to my heart.
I am going live a healthy life. For me. For my children. For my parents. For my niece and nephews. For those watching me looking for a way that’s different.
And for my grandma. Happy Birthday. I love you.