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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

It Takes A Strong Woman To Raise A Neighborhood

Last night, I had a chat with a patient, like I always do.

Every night I chat with my patients in an effort to keep them calm, comfortable and focused on something other than the time it takes to put so many wires on them for a sleep study.  Usually, I'll talk about them: where they're from, what they do, their family and so on.  Sometimes, I talk about myself: the move from New York to Bellingham, being a Yankee fan in Mariners country, that I'm a writer, or how I got into sleep disorder treatment.

Last night, I talked for half an hour about my family, specifically my grandmother.

My grandmother at her 88th birthday.  She hasn't changed.

My grandmother is 95 years young.  If you've ever met her, young is absolutely the right way to say it.  When we were  kids, she lived with us.  My mom did the single mother thing and while that was an impressive and Herculean undertaking that I can't be grateful enough for, it's nearly impossible to do with seven children without some form of co-parenting.  My grandmother has been directly involved in our growth and raising since well before I was born.  She served as secret-keeper, disciplinarian, security guard, chef.  She told stories, offered guidance, encouraged moral values.  She got us out of bed (usually against our will) and made sure we got to school on time.  She helped guide my six older siblings and me to a strong work ethic and a sense of right and wrong.  And if the story stopped there, I'm sure all of you would be singing her praises.

What if I told you that she didn't stop there?

Starting from my earliest memories in the mid 1980's, my grandmother ran something of an impromptu day-care form our apartment. Flatbush was a working-class, Caribbean immigrant neighborhood back then.  New parents who simply had to return to work to make ends meet would drop children off at our apartment in the morning and come get them after work.  These children were young, some just a few weeks old, and my grandmother would care for them as she cared for us.  They would be in our apartment every day from the time they were little until their first day of school, with my grandmother charging a generously small fee ($50 a week, if I remember correctly).  And after their first day of school, those children would often end up in our apartment until their parents got home from work.

Now, no story is completely happy.  While most of those kids would go on to be normal, functioning members of society, some of them fell victim to the trappings of a bad neighborhood.  Some of them got involved with bad people who did messed-up things.  But they would see my grandmother in the street and they would stand up straight, smile a smile they likely forgot how, and politely say "Good morning, Mama, how are you today?" like they were the kids she remembered them as.  Respect, from people you wouldn't have expected it from.

My grandmother is 95 years young and thankfully still going strong.  While she can't lift children the way she used to and she can't chase around toddlers the way she'd want to, she still loves children.  I think they keep her young.  She's been telling me since my mid-20's that she's waiting around for me to have kids, that she wants to see my kids.  I tell her the same thing every time.

"Keep waiting.  I like having you here."

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful story, beautiful writing, as usual. Thank you, Franklyn.