During this time of the year, I always look to my Grandmother, Mary B. She was a mixed young woman who grew in the south. Oniato AL. A place that sounds like no one would ever want to go there anyway. She was the 2nd to last born of 18 children to a White farmer, and a black woman. My grandmother never got a chance to meet some of her older brothers and sisters due to the age gap that existed. She often told me stories of walking into her home and seeing bodies in caskets, and being told that it was her brothers. The conditions in which she and her siblings grew were hard. An old abandoned railroad house, that they made into a place to live. The reason why they lived in this house, which was on the outskirts of town, was due to the color of their skin. Their family went against the time in which they lived. Their white father, often sat on his porch with his shotgun to ensure that no one would mess with his light-skinned black children. He was hatted because of this, and so was his family.
Pretty soon my grandmother’s father and mother died and the care of the children was left to the older siblings. Eventually, my grandmother’s older sister Sarah, who was a school teacher, decided to move her sisters and brothers up north. She knew that was the only way for them to be able to survive. They took the journey up and they all arrived in Cleveland OH. Cleveland, which was not free from it’s racism, would provide a much better environment for a African-American teacher, to make a living and care for her family. My grandmother would often tell me it was hard for them, but they made it. She told me of bath time for the children, which she said she hated. Not because she didn’t want to be clean, but because water was a hot commodity. There were several children in the house along with adults. The children had to share bath water and you didn’t want to be the last one to take your bath. Pretty much you were getting into filthy black water.
She also shared stories with me of how they would attend school in Cleveland, elementary school, High School and were given a hard time, not just by whites, by blacks as well. See, she wasn’t quite black, and wasn’t quite white. She was stuck in some in between. So, she and her siblings had to fight for their own place in the world that was till quite separate though in the North. My grandmother loved playing sports and baseball was one of her favorites and still is today. She is an SUPER Indian’s fan. As a child, she was being picked on by some children who were calling her racial names. Things I don’t care to share, but were very hurtful and mean. While playing base ball outside one day in front of her house, a young man was picking her on. She knew she had to defend herself and they thought she would go and get her brothers to fight, but her sister had taught her that she must learn to defend herself and be proud of who she was. So, she went back out into the street to play, and when the kids starting messing with her again, she fought back and ended up beating the poor boy untill he ran away crying. Her brothers couldn’t believe it, but they knew then she could take care of herself.
Life went on and she eventually grew, became a nurse and got married. She had my father and is still living today. However, I could still see that my grandmother had many scars from the past of prejudice that she lived through during her time. In fact, when I was a child I recall having a conversation with her about Bananas. See, she would go grocery shopping and always buy Bananas. But, she never ate them, she didn’t like Bananas. I noticed one day and asked her, “grandma, why do you buy then and you don’t like them”. She told me, “well, when I was a child, we could never buy bananas and a lot of other fruits. We were so poor and had no money to buy such things. Now, when I see them I buy them. Even though I don’t like them, I buy them. They comfort me some how”.
When she told me that story, and I think I have shared it with others before, it reminds me of the price that many have paid so that we can have some of the most simple things. We can travel from state to state, country to country, we can go to a grocery store, department store, anywhere we wish and not worry about being told we can’t have something we want. It reminds me to be thankful for what I have, and look at every bit of food, clothing and shelter as a blessing from God. To see my children free and living a life without any understanding of segregation, racism (or at least not obvious signs of it from day to day in their life). That a banana meant so much to her, and yet today we can’t quite understand it all.
I am thankful for my grandmother and her ability to survive it all, and push forward. For her sister who fought to care for her siblings, knowing it was the hardest things she would have to do. A biracial family that fought through both sides to find a place to belong. While I am thankful for her gift of life, through birthing my father and helping to raise me and give me an identity of being proud to be an African-American. I am even more thankful that God spared her to be one of the women who gave me Jesus, at a young age.
My grandmother is still alive, and for that I am truly thankful. And every time I see bananas, I buy them because I like them, but most of all because I realize that she gave so much for me, and I keep the tradition of keeping them in my home to say, “Thank you God for Bananas”, LOL. I know it seems crazy, but for a 9 yr old little girl many years ago, they meant the world, that she could not have. To that little girl who became a woman and now who is old, they became a sign that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.
Matthew 19:26, “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”