She once told me she would give me LEGOs for Christmas, brought over a wrapped box that made LEGO-sounding noises when you shook it, and when I opened it…. It was an anatomy kit.
She was a self-taught expert in the Civil War, and I somehow convinced my fourth and fifth grade teachers that she should come lecture at our elementary schools. I have no idea how she kept our attention, but I remember sitting in awe as she faithfully recounted battles and explained racism to our little ears and brains.
She and I would sit at her kitchen table as I got into middle school. She’d chain smoke and I’d suggest that if I’d been a white women in the South during slavery, I’d be nice to my slaves. I remember her looking at me and saying, “no, you’d be awful to them because you would have been socialized to be racist.”
I was in college interning at a domestic violence shelter when my grandmother got sick. We wrote each other letters about the women I was meeting and about how I was learning more about theory behind just why people are socialized to be racist.
I finished college a semester early so I could be one of my grandmother’s caregivers. I was turning in seminary applications in between medicine routines and visits from her friends. One day her pastor came to visit—her pastor who didn’t believe that women should be ordained. The first time I met him, he asked what I would do now that I was done with college. My grandmother looked at me, looked at him and said “she’ll be the best pastor!” and then lit the fuse on a very long and unhelpful argument on women’s ordination. Later, on a return trip, the pastor asked me who I was voting for in the primaries for president. I looked at him, looked at my grandmother and said, “John McCain.” And he said, “I would have thought you’d be like your grandmother and support Hillary.” And later my grandmother said, “You better not vote for McCain.” And I said, “You better not make me talk to that guy again.”
She loved me fiercely, argued for me in the inevitable fights I got into with my parents, believed that I could go on adventures and survive with my own fierceness. A week before she died, I curled up on her hospital bed with contraband M&Ms, and she said, “you know, we become what we are called. And you are beloved.”
She died ten years ago. Sometimes I hear her voice urging me into new adventures or to ask harder questions about race and sociology. But mostly I look around the places I call home and remember that I have always been beloved.