Dear Grandpa

September 22, 2010

Dear Grandpa Mac,

It’s fall and the leaves are turning.  As the days grow colder, I’ve been thinking of you more and more.  The world changed so much in the time between your birth in the early part of the last century, and just a few years ago when you left us.  We never spoke about it much.

You grew up in the South during Jim Crow, “Whites Only” signs and other limitations and indignities were your everyday realities.  For me they are only photos in a history book.  You were a young man during the Great Depression, just beginning life with your sweetheart, a life that lasted nearly 75 years.  You saw the Civil Rights movement, Motown, and watched bell bottoms come in and out of style a couple of times.

You had a good life together.  Mom talks about furniture that never matched and Aunt C complains about all the chopping and peeling involved in preparing and preserving often home-grown food, but they’re very proud of the fact that you and Grandma took care of your family without a dime of charity.  Even when you qualified for that aid.  You didn’t make excuses when you could make things happen.

Mom said that despite the fact that you worked long hours to support your family, you would always listen to her problems and give advice. She had to get up early and talk to you as you ate breakfast before a long day of work.  It makes me smile to picture mom as a preteen, sitting in a small kitchen at a small table talking to you in the pre-dawn hours, the rest of the house asleep except for Grandma at the stove.  I cherish a photo of taken of you in what I guess is the late sixties, frowning at the camera as you are about to carve the Turkey at Thanksgiving.  You just wanted to get going, but Mom insisted on taking a picture first.

The world changed so much in your lifetime. At the time of your death Black Americans could vote without fear of violence, had won equal access to public facilities, and some held high positions in the government and private sector. Your sons had served in the military, a daughter had led a professional association, and a nephew who traveled the world on business.

Everything wasn’t all rosy though. The Black American out-of-wedlock rate skyrocketed to shameful heights, with too many of us defending fatherless homes as “normal” and bringing up the odd serial killer raised in a two-parent home whenever the problems with this widespread practice were so much as hinted at.  It seems we gained so much, but lost alot of our old-school values.

When you and Grandma got married, you weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. It seems back then we knew the value of family. You and Grandma were a team.  You hunted rabbits, and she cleaned them and made them into stew.  You worked hard to make money for your family, and she managed it carefully, stretching the budget by growing food, having the kids wear hand-me-downs and making crazy quilts out of clothing that could no longer be worn.  At night, a child tiptoeing past your room could hear laughter coming from beyond the closed door.

Together, families like ours got through stormy weather like the Great Depression.  Hardship was eased because they were together. They worked together, ate together, celebrated together.

I always told you I loved you.  But I never told you how great you were, just for being a good man.  Because you married my Grandma and were an excellent husband, you gave my mom a dad. Beyond that, you gave me a grandfather and my children a great-grandfather.  They were all pretty young so they will remember you mostly through pictures, but also by the stories mom, I, and their uncles and Aunts tell about you.  Your committment to family is probably your most important legacy.

I worry about the future of Black Americans.  I worry that our professional, financial and political gains–generations of effort– will be undone by personal recklessness. So many children will not have a grandpas and great-grandpas in their lives because their parents never married.  They will not have the love and support they deserve.  So many heartwarming stories will never be told because they will never happen.  So many children will grow up with gaping holes in their souls, not just where their fathers should be, but where their grandfathers and great-grandfathers should be.  So many families have those gaping holes, right now.

It’s fall, Grandpa, and the leaves are turning.  Not just literally, but metaphorically.  Unemployment levels are high, and rising.  Many people have lost their homes, with many more living with that possibility at any moment.  Unlike the past, most of our families are fractured and therefore weak.  They are not functioning as strong teams, and as blogger Khadija Nassif said, “Survival is a team sport.”  Most tragically, they deny that this sort of family team is even necessary.

Most of us seem to not be able to find our commonsense.  And as you used to say, “If you have something and can’t find it, it’s the same thing as not having it.”

I thank God that I have mine. As you know, I married a man much like you.  A hard worker, as you once noted.  Someone who loves and is committed to his family, someone to work with me to make life good for our children and for us. Someone to frown impatiently as I flitter around taking photos at holidays.

The leaves are turning.  Winter is coming, but I feel confident we’ll make it through. Together.

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5 Responses to “Dear Grandpa”

  1. Marty Says:

    Powerful. I really like the letter to grandpa format.

    This part was the essence of the matter for me.

    “I worry about the future of Black Americans. I worry that our professional, financial and political gains–generations of effort– will be undone by personal recklessness. So many children will not have a grandpas and great-grandpas in their lives because their parents never married. They will not have the love and support they deserve. So many heartwarming stories will never be told because they will never happen. So many children will grow up with gaping holes in their souls, not just where their fathers should be, but where their grandfathers and great-grandfathers should be. So many families have those gaping holes, right now.”

    Eloquent and on point. Thanks for contributing to the discussion today.

  2. Gina Says:

    AW I loved this.

  3. Spinster Says:

    Awwww, bless. 🙂 Heartwarming and poignant.


  4. Salaam Alaikum,

    I cried reading this, lovely writing.

  5. Mrs. F Says:

    This is perfect. And now I have a lump in my throat.

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