Updated: Jul 16
The smell of aging paper reminds me of my grandma's house. The one she lived in before her age betrayed her freedom. I remember her backroom with the family photos and vast library. I didn't understand the magnitude of her library until I learned American history; until I learned why they didn't want our people to read.
My grandma is from the Southside of Chicago where her father owned a corner store and pastored a church. In her day, they were royalty. She went away to college in the 1940s. She kicked it with Tuskegee airmen. She got sassy with southern whites. In her day, she was a "hot girl." She became a school teacher. That was one of the most impressive things a black woman could be in her day. Plus, she had the nerve to be a good one. My grandma's teaching style is so memorable that generations of families on our side of town still recognize her last name.
How did I not realize I was spending the night with black history? Black excellence used to make me pound cake and let me lick the spoon. Brilliance and resilience took me to the library every morning, prayed with me every evening, and passed down her love of literature and pretty handwriting.
On the way to the library she'd let me ask the newspaper man for the "DEFENDER," which was the oldest black publication in the city at the time. I'd hand him the dollar myself. When I was old enough to read the non-fiction section and I saw my first pictures of the Klan, she explained who they were. She didn't lie, but her explanation never made me cry. It made me want to read more.
I eventually began to write and illustrate my own books in her backroom full of books. She treated every innocent release like it deserved a Pulitzer and bragged on me to her friends.
We got our hair done.
We got our nails done.
We fried chicken.
We made art.
Now when I visit my Grandma who's approaching 100 years-old and used to have a witty comeback for everyone; she doesn't say much, but she tells me she loves me. Over and over again. She doesn't have a vast library anymore, but she still asks me how school is going. She smiles when I tell her I want to be a teacher just like her. She somehow knows to tell me "You've always been sweet," on my most sour days. She doesn't have a big kitchen full of goodies anymore, but she still tells me to eat whatever I'd like. She reaches into her purse and tries to give me money she no longer has.
So, I rest my head on her lap the way I used to. Who cares if she's in a wheelchair and not on her chaise lounge? The love is still right there at her feet.