I Want My Grandma…

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.

This is why I wept.

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 like no body else?
  • What was your favorite memory from your childhood?
  • What was my mum like as a girl?

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.

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 parents and/or 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.

22 thoughts on “I Want My Grandma…”

  1. How touching! I wish I had a 12+12=24 wish, so I could give it to you to spend with your Grandma. Simple hopes and wishes are the best.

  2. Our grandma was the best. I miss her a lot think about her every day. Thanks for writting such a true and touching story about our mama.

  3. Janine, thanks for this beautiful post about my mama and your grandma. Everything you said about her was true, and there is so much more we can say about this wonderful, kind and Godly woman. Mama went home on Apriil 25, 1990 at the age of 69–and not a day goes by that I do not think about her. I also wish I had more time with her.

    Thank you mama. for all that you taught me while I was growing up; your teachings made me the woman I am today.

    • You are welcome. I wanted to reach deep and share something meaningful about my grandma. When you cried as you read this post, I was so glad I tried. Thank you for the foundation you gave me, because you truly are the reason I am. I love you!

  4. That was an amazing and heart-warming piece. I also think of my angelic grandma often. My memory of her has always been this warm peaceful person that loved me. She is definitely someone I wish I had more time with.

  5. Janine, thank you for sharing those beautiful memories of my mom and your grandma. You have caused me to reflect on the life that I shared with momma. She’s been gone a long time but it still feels like it was recently. Momma was a very resourceful, skilled and creative homemaker. THANKS FOR THAT AMAZING PICTURE AND ARTICLE. PROUD OF YOU.

    • Juliet, thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts. I am so glad that what I wrote caused you to reflect on grandma. Both grandma and my mum are the most successful women I have had the privilege to know! And that is something I am very proud of.

  6. Janine: Thanks for sharing thoughful words about our grandma. She’s gone but surely not forgotten by me. Reflections about her life were very real. She was my Angel that rescued me and gave me a gate way to my new life. Godly woman, encourage me to have Faith in God, loving to everyone of her neighbors. Enjoyed her cakes, baked chicken, coconut tarts. Grandma was very talented!!

    Thank you Grandma. I miss you so much! Your legacy lives on long after you gone!

  7. Janine, thank you for taking me back to a pleasant time in my life. Yes, your grandma and my mother was a Godly and great Lady. She gave her all for her children. We all have fond memories. The 7 of us can be proud of her, so let us come together in love for each other as she loved us.

  8. I was blessed to spend the two summers before her death with my grandma Lily Rose Willis, nee Francis. It was during our talks on her Verandah that I gained knowledge of my family and its history, practical knowledge and business sense. You see, she was a businesswoman, who through hard work and enterprise supported herself and her entire family (sisters and their children). She never spoke of the things that she did for others. This I learned after her passing in August of 1981. She spoke of being called “Money Woman” and of white businessmen going to my grandfather and asking him what is wrong with his wife. Why does she not know her place.

    I went to her funeral and flew off to start college the next day. It was as if the torch had been passed. Today, I reflect and wonder if my sense of responsibility for my family, if my drive and ambition are just parts of her living on.

    In sum, I agree. More time to ask the questions we did not or could not would be most wonderful.

    • Mike, thank you for sharing your Lily Rose with us. How beautiful that you were able to connect with her in such a deep way while there was still time. And how wonderful that you were wise enough to carry her wisdom forth to the next generation.

      And yes, I definitely think that your sense of responsiblity and drive are an extension of your grandma Lily Rose. What an amazing legacy she gave you.

  9. Time is the most precious gift. When I think back, I was not the person who would ask the questions or take the time to have these conversations. If I had her here now, I would take full advantage of the breadth of her knowledge, passion and experience.


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