“What was your mom like?” I asked my 97-year-old great grandfather as I drove him to the airport.
He was leaving after a quick trip to visit with us. It’s not often people get to converse with their great-grandparents. I feel very fortunate. Every time my great-grandpa Griffin comes to town, I want to ask him a slew of questions. I ask about his stories, how he’s seen the world change, and what important lessons he’s learned in his 97 years of living.
I think this would be natural for anyone to have a desire to learn more about their history–Where they come from. Especially African Americans, whose history can only go back so far. Sometimes I feel like I’m grasping for any knowledge I can find that ties me to specific people. So I can know what magnificent people I’m related to. Whose blood runs through my blood.
I wanted to know a little about a generation before him, about my great-great grandmother.
Annie was her name, and he told me a story about her that has impacted him to this day. It’s a story that can’t be categorized as simply being black history. It’s specifically a part of my family history, but a lesson I feel most connected to as a parent.
“In 1922,” he started. How he can remember exact years I’ll never understand! “I was playing with marbles, and she came in and told me to get a switch because I wasn’t suppose to be playing with marbles.”
My great-grandpa stopped his story for a moment concerned he’d told me it before.
“No, no, I haven’t heard it!” I encouraged him to go on.
“She was very angry with me,” He started again. “I asked her why I shouldn’t be playing with marbles. She told me because it was Sunday. But she hadn’t told me I couldn’t play marbles on Sunday.”
He told me he was upset because he always tried to follow the rules. But this was one he didn’t know of.
“So I stood up straight and firmly talked back to her and said ‘But you didn’t tell me!’”
Immediately my great-grandpa told me he was worried he had overdone it. Pushed his luck. He didn’t normally talk back to adults and was very respectful.
In a firm voice, his mother told him to come here.
He worried he was going to get it. He walked towards her and awaited his punishment.
“She reached out and grabbed me,” he told me. “She embraced me in a hug and said she loved me.”
He said his mother told him that he was right, she hadn’t told him not to play on Sunday before.
“I knew she loved me,” he told me. “That is when I really learned what love was.”
He knew there was nothing he could do that would cause her to stop loving him. My great-grandpa was only 4 at the time, yet that memory lasted with him his entire life.
My thought immediately went to my children. What am I doing and saying to them daily that could stay with them their entire lives?
“We need more love,” my Grandpa Griffin said. “More love and understanding in the world.”
Wise words I hope to take to heart and put in motion as I raise my children and remind them of the simple, yet powerful lesson their great-great-great grandmother taught her son one Sunday afternoon.