For the past few days of the Black History Month series I’ve focused on the lives of my grandparents. Beginning with my father’s mother, Johnnie Lou Gaudy Carithers, who was the first African American hired in the state capital as a secretary and my mother’s father Eugene “Sweets” Wilson, who established his own hair salon “Eugene of Detroit Hair Designers” in Atlanta Georgia. Researching and reflecting on my grandparent’s legacies has given me a better understanding of myself. Like my grandmother’s fantastic clerical stills and shorthand rate of 120 words/minute, I love to write. Similarly my grandfather I also moved across the country and established my own salon in a new town. When we learn more about those ancestors who came before us we get a better understanding of ourselves. Today I want to focus on my last living grandparent, my mother’s mother Gwendolyn Wilson. I call her my Grandmommy.
My Grandmommy is the grandparent I was closest to as I’d never met my father’s mother or father (who had never been in his life) and my mother’s father lived in Atlanta; my Grandmommy was the one who babysat me through the years. I have distinct memories of her giving me my last cup of juice because I’d refuse to drink water, she’d laugh when I’d beg for more. My last resort was always to dilute it with water, thinking as long as it had color I could drink it. Although she wasn’t successful at making me drink more water she did peak my interest in other areas. My grandmother was an avid reader, she loved to read and she always had a book in her hand. If I were to paint a picture of my grandmother she’d be reading while sitting on a throne of books, her throne being made of title’s that she’d already finished. I remember her reading countless stacks of books, she made it look like a super power. “How could she read so much? So quickly?” I’d always think to myself as I watched her. I knew if my Grandmommy liked to read then I could be an amazing reader too, she made it look easy. My passion for reading was born out of watching her.
Growing up she was the typical grandmother in a lot of ways. She was the one who’d I’d visit to have the opportunity to see my other cousins, she was the one who brought us all together. She would teach us how to cook different meals and deserts. Sometimes before my mother came to pick me up she would even slip me $5. I’d always look forward to visiting her because I knew I’d leave with a smile, I still feel this way when I go back home to visit her today.
This past August when I visited my grandmother I had the privilege of helping her organize some boxes that she was preparing for storage. I say ‘privilege’ because in those boxes I found incredible treasures: her report cards from grade school, her high school graduate diploma, and even a novel she wrote but never had published. I was astonished, not only did she consume countless books, but she also wrote her own novel. I’m determined to read it one day. When I looked at her report cards and diploma I was amazed by every discovery of her life and work. When I visited this past January, like old-time my grandmother pulled out her favorite recipes and we made cherry cheesecake from scratch. A few says later my cousin and I came over and we made oatmeal raisin cookies. There wasn’t a day I spent with her that she didn’t work to enhance my cooking abilities and I’m thankful for it.
She graduated from River Rouge High School Class of 1964 and after her graduation dedicated time to raising her family. Her and my grandfather, Eugene Wilson, had three children: Eugene Jr, Danielle (Dolly), and Micheal Wilson. She was forced to raise her children as a single mother after my grandfather moved to Atlanta. After working as a secretary for Whitehead and Kales, a legal company in River Rouge, she worked as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service for over ten years. She did so with strength and boldness. Having a living grandparent to visit is one of the greatest gifts one can have. The time I spend with my grandmother feels like a gift, her memories are access to wisdom and history generations before me. Talking to your grandparent about their life is rewarding for not only your relationship with your grandparent, but also for your perspective of yourself. Their conversations open our eyes to their life, the life that led to your creation: their work, hobbies, hometown, and other characteristics are all an essential quality of who you are. Without my grandmother I cannot be who I am.