Last week, a dear friend asked me a most ordinary but meaningful question. He asked:
If you could spend 24 hours with anyone doing exactly what you want, who would it be and what would you do?
Her name was Mary Mathilda Lavinia.
And when she fell into her final sleep on April 25, 1990, I was at work. I was wearing a two-piece, purple floral peplum dress from Lord & Taylor and my favorite slingbacks.
I immediately cloistered myself behind the wooden door of an executive bathroom stall and I wept. I wept as if my heart was breaking open.
As I was taking a shower on Saturday, a faded 40-year old memory came back to me vividly.
I can see Mary Mathilda sitting at our kitchen table with her legs crossed so that one ankle was up on her knee. She had one arm on the table and the other crossed over it, holding a cup of tea. There was a certain peaceful look on her face, and she was humming something softly. I know it is early morning and it is just after her morning devotion with her Lord. This memory had been lost to me until that moment.
Mary Mathilda Lavinia was my maternal grandmother.
Sadly, my grandma lived far, far away and so we saw too little of her. But now I wish fervently that I had been a little older and/or wiser so that I could have taken advantage of those times that I did have the privilege to be in her company to really get to know the woman she was.
If I could just have 12 more hours with my grandma, I would relish her company and ask so many questions. Questions like:
“Grandma, what did you dream of, hope for as a girl? After the Lord, who was the great love of your life? Who or what broke your heart and what mended it? What were your disappointments? What were your fears? Who taught you to cook and bake? What was your favorite memory from your childhood?”
Now, I know why I wept.
I would ask her to tell me about bleaching potato sacks on a stone heap under the blazing Caribbean sun until they were white as untrodden snow to make shirts for her boys.
And how she felt as she cut a single apple in five to share between herself and her four children.
And, of course, I would have to ask: “Grandma, what was my mum like as a girl?”
Yes, in the kitchen, we would chat easily, laugh much, and cry too about the things that are so important to women as she teaches me the secret to making her unforgettable, fragrant, cinnamony coconut tarts–with the sweet, moist filling and the tender, flaky crust. The ones she used to send us through the mail to express her love.
Truth is, what I did not know then was that when I lost her, I lost a part of myself and a large, untold part of my human history.
Nevertheless, I want it written that Mary Mathilda Lavinia was more than just a date on her birth and death certificates or a date-dash-date on a headstone.
I want it known that she was a single mother who tirelessly sacrificed for the well-being of her children; that she was extremely resourceful when it came to feeding and clothing her children; that she loved the Lord; that she was loved by her community; that my mum still misses her so; and that she made the most fantastic coconut tarts and the “sweetest” pot of rice and peas.
I love you still, grandma.
Stay tune next week for Part II of who I would love, love to spend the other 12 hours with.
Call to action: If you could spend 24 hours with anyone doing exactly what you want, who would it be and what would you do?
And if your grandparents are still alive, I beg you to take the opportunity to get to know them and yourself in them and to create memories you can cherish your whole life.