Sunday, April 17, 2016

Annie Lee Lighting 1928-2016

"Haven’t you ever seen the sacred connection between grandparents and grandchildren? It is simple love, absent the stress of the parent-child connection." -- Steven Barnes

Grandma and me circa 1975

My favorite memory of me and my grandma together was when I was around six years old. Of course, it’s a food memory. Together, we cooked a breakfast of eggs scrambled in butter-flavored Crisco, bacon fried in the same Crisco, toast slathered in butter, and my favorite part, coffee. Her coffee was black. Mine was flavored with five teaspoons of sugar. (I was six…coffee straight, no chaser? Ick.) We sat down together at the dining room table, just the two of us. The two things I will never forget is the curious taste of butter flavored Crisco. Was it butter? No. It tasted like butter, but it wasn’t. Six-year-old me was like, “This is AWESOME!” The second thing I won’t forget is the silent pleasure of eating breakfast with my grandmother. I can’t remember a thing we said to each other. I only remember the feeling of love and joy.

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “People may forget what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

My grandmother was Annie Lee Stewart Lighting. She always made me feel loved. 

My mother, grandfather, me, grandma 1976

I could always count on feeling safe, loved, and comforted whenever I was with her. It didn’t matter what we were doing together. She took me to run errands with her. She took me when she played her numbers (street numbers before Michigan had a state lottery.) She took me to church. I remember one year she made me memorize a poem for Easter. I fell in love with pastel blue dress with pleats that I had to wear. I wanted to sleep in that dress. I remember Grandma sitting in the front row mouthing the words to the poem so I wouldn’t forget it.

I remember parties at my grandparent’s house when family would show up. Beer, card playing, and loud black folks. My parents let me stay up late on those Saturday nights. I remember crawling into my grandparents’ bed when my grandfather would be at work late. She never put me back in my bed. I’d always wake up next to her. 

John Lighting Sr. and Annie Lighting 1947

I can’t remember how old I was, definitely younger than ten, when I came in her house with a pick in my hair. The older girls up the street were doing it, so I did it too. Soon as she saw me, Grandma snatched that pick out of my hair and said, “Girl, don’t you ever let me see you walking around with a pick in your hair. That’s what them fast girls up the street do. That is not you. You are not fast. You are smart. Act like it.”

She also had no problem threatening to beat my butt with one of her house shoes. Or even more classic black grandma, threatening to beat me with a tree switch. “Now if I whup you, you gon’ get the switch off the tree yourself.” (I don’t think I ever got whupped with a switch. The one house shoe whupping set me straight.)

Grandma and me circa 1996

No matter what was going on, I could guarantee that whenever I was with her and/or my grandfather, all was well in my world. The time I spent with them was easy like Sunday morning. All love, all the time.

That ease was always there. When my grandfather died, I was ten years old. My parents shielded me from the ravages of his cancer. I have a very clear memory of remaining in the lobby of a hospital while my parents, grandmother, and uncle were upstairs with my dying grandfather. That was as complicated as it got when it came to my grandparents until I was thirty-eight years old. 

Me, grandma, and ma Mother's Day 2001

It was in 2010 that I learned about the complicated relationship and history between my grandparents and their children. I learned things that I simply could not believe. It was also the same year that Alzheimer’s disease began to steal Grandma away from us. I watched a woman I deeply loved deteriorate into helplessness and the vast majority of her life’s memories erased. She suffered in such a deep and profound way. It’s hard to explain with words. If you’ve seen Alzheimer’s and dementia up close, then you know what it does to a person. 

Me and grandma June 2012

It is very difficult for me to write about either of these things. What I can say is this:

The relationship I had with my grandmother is the complete opposite of the relationship my mother had with her. Why? I never lived with my grandmother even though we spent an enormous amount of time together until I moved from Detroit to Atlanta when I was fourteen years old. Grandma was not responsible for raising me. Because of that distance, we could simply enjoy each other’s company, and have a blast doing it. A parent does not have that simple luxury. So the woman I knew only had to love me. All I had to do was love her. 

Right up to the end…I saw my grandma in January, a month before she died. My mom took me to the home grandma was living at. She had no idea who I was. We were sitting at a table together. Grandma was trying to feed herself a bowl of Cheerios and milk. Pointing to me, my mother said, “Ma, you know who this is?” Grandma looked at me. “No, but she seems like a real nice lady.” My mom said, “She is, Ma. She is.” “Mmmhmm,” Grandma said. “Real nice.” All I could do was rub her arm and give her a hug.

That was our last conversation. The love was still there. The bond between grandparent and grandchild is indeed a simple, sacred one. I am forever grateful for my maternal grandmother. 

Grandma at her favorite spot. May 2010

Rest in Peace, Power, and Freedom.
I will always cherish you, yet I am happy you are free from suffering.
I love you,
your granddaughter, Althea


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