My favorite time of the year is probably the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I usually put my Christmas tree up the weekend before Thanksgiving, but this year I did it the weekend after. I do, however, start playing Christmas music at the beginning of November. There’s just something about it that shifts my attitude. I’m more tolerant and try to be more forgiving. I know…I hear you! I should be like this all the time, but the truth is I’m not!
As a kid, I remember the traditions my mother set in place so that we could have a sense of normalcy since my dad had left us when we were very young. My mother lived paycheck to paycheck, but somehow, someway, we woke up on Christmas morning to a plethora of gifts all over the living floor, under the tree and displayed on the furniture. Mother was the best Santa ever! Regardless of the circumstances, she pulled it off every year. Each year we’d have our traditional Christmas dinner: a small turkey/ham with cornbread dressing, greenbeans, potato salad, cornbread, and sweet tea. Every year she would bake two cakes: coconut for her and my sister and chocolate for me! That’s love!
Now that I’m older and mother now resides in a nursing home, Christmas just isn’t the same. As I aged, I slowly saw the value of my family Christmas traditions slipping away. I saw the “reason for the season” being dismissed as I observed the greed and thoughtlessness around me. It was then that I decided I would no longer buy anyone (except my mother) in my family Christmas gifts, as I felt I was getting duped every year…gifts with no meaning or any consideration giving in selecting them. I would prayerfully consider the gifts for family, in hopes that they would be elated not only to receive it, but also that it would be useful and desired. However, with my gift that I got…not so much thought or value. It was a slap in the face and I know! I hear you! “It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts.” I’m sorry, but I do not agree with that at all! I’d be better off if you just had not gotten me anything. So with all the money I was dropping on family members, I decided that going forward, I would buy myself my own Christmas gifts. Call me what you like, but I was determined to never have another disappointing Christmas, and I haven’t. That decision was made almost 13 years ago.
I love still love Christmas, but the reality is that it is forever changed for me. That part with my family has lost its appeal, and I find other ways to embrace the season. Sly Stone, said it best. “It’s a Family Affair.” I have often wondered what it means. The lyrics are:
“It’s a family affair, it’s a family affair
It’s a family affair, it’s a family affair
One child grows up to be
Somebody that just loves to learn
And another child grows up to be
Somebody you’d just love to burn
Mom loves the both of them
You see it’s in the blood
Both kids are good to Mom
‘Blood’s thicker than mud’
It’s a family affair, it’s a family affair
Newlywed a year ago
But you’re still checking each other out
Nobody wants to blow
Nobody wants to be left out
You can’t leave, ’cause your heart is there
But you can’t stay, ’cause you been somewhere else!
You can’t cry, ’cause you’ll look broke down
But you’re cryin’ anyway ’cause you’re all broke down!
It’s a family affair
It’s a family affair.“
Family is family. You can’t choose them. You just love them the best that you can. It’s demonstrated all throughout the Bible. Cain slew Abel all because of his jealousy of his younger brother’s sacrificial offering. Abel gave God his very best and Cain tried to short-change God. He obviously forgot whom he was dealing with. Then there was Noah and the shame his youngest son, Ham, tried to bring on him when he saw his father naked. Firstly, I don’t see how he was going to benefit from exposing Noah’s nakedness. Secondly, I don’t want to see either of my parents naked, unless I’m caring for them in their old age (and not even then). Fortunately, Noah’s older sons, Shem and Japheth, had the good sense to cover their father’s nakedness without looking upon him. In any event, there was David and his family. Not only did David sleep with another man’s wife but he also had the man murdered. You should know this story well. David, Bathsheba and Uriah. David was king at this time and instead of being where he should have been which was at war with his men, he was goofing off back at the palace. Then it happened! He was looking off his rooftop and onto the rooftop of Bathsheba and Uriah. Well, Uriah was off fighting for David. In the meantime, David was eying Bathsheba who was bathing and minding her business (or was she?). Anyway, David got greedy. He wanted her. He sent for her and he had her. He was the king. What was she to say? “No, Buster!” would have worked. While David took matters into his own hands, God still knew the outcome. Later, David received word that Bathsheba was with child. His child. Not wanting to be exposed, he sent for Uriah and basically encouraged him to spend time with his own wife. He has some nerve! Don’t get me wrong, I really like David, but he was a hot mess! David underestimated Uriah’s loyalty. The plan backfired on him. Uriah was so loyal that he would not lie with Bathsheba, but instead opted to watch over his king and lord. The man slept at the door of David’s palace! When that plan fell through, David instructed, one of his right-hand men, Joab, to “strategically” position Uriah on the battlefield where death was inevitable, at the forefront of the hardest fighting. Uriah was “successfully” murdered. David should have just swung the sword himself. After Bathsheba mourned for a while, David married her. This drama didn’t just stop here. David’s sins became the sins of his children, also. The baby David and Bathsheba had died. Mind you, David had other children. Absalom, Amnon and Tamar. It seems that Absalom and Tamar had the same mother and Amnon had a different mother. Don’t act like you’ve never heard of a blended family. Humph….they existed before we came up with an official name for them. Amnon was in love with Tamar, or so he thought. He wanted her desperately. So a conniving friend helped Amnon trick Tamar. Amnon sent word to Tamar that he was sick, but would feel better if his sister would come and care for him. Guess who the messenger was? It was David. He unknowingly fed Tamar to a wolf. As David commanded, she went to Amnon. One thing led to another and he savagely raped her. He no longer loved her, but hated her with great hatred. So much that it was greater than any love he once felt for her.
All of us have family dysfunction and sometimes we write it off as “normal.”
No family is perfect. You know how it goes, “Ain’t no drama like family drama ‘cause family drama don’t quit.” Now that is the truth! It’s always something! How many times have you felt like you were in the wrong family? That God made a mistake? That you were adopted? That you just didn’t belong? I felt like that often as a child and even more so as an adult. I just never fit in and I still don’t, but let me assure you that God didn’t make a mistake. He has placed me in the family that I’m supposed to be in.
My childhood wasn’t turbulent…at least no more than anyone else’s. I really had a decent upbringing. Other than my dad leaving us, it was good. My mother didn’t display affection, but I knew she loved me by the things she did such as feeding me, clothing me, and providing my basic needs. I had a very strong support system of women. Of course there was the Queen Esther, my grandmother, my aunties and their husbands. I had four aunts, my mother’s sisters. My one aunt, Magdalene, was married 11 years before she and my uncle had a child. So, up until then, my sister and I were their surrogate children. Then there is Maxine, the aunt who never married and never had children. She also has deemed herself the matriarch of family since my grandmother’s passing. She worries about everything. She is a hypochondriac. She has had every sickness that ever was, to hear her tell it. I have three other aunts: Helen and Rosemary. Helen was the eldest of the Queen’s children and Rosemary is the baby of the family. Helen passed away in November 2003. Magdalene passed away three months prior in August. What a tragic blow to our family in such a short period of time. Helen was the spitting image of the Queen, so much so they could have been sisters. They had the same posture, stance, height, nappy red hair and green eyes.
I would be remiss if I did not tell you about my beloved grandfather, George Staton, affectionately known by mother and her siblings as “Pa” and by me as “Grand-Da” (The “a” in Da is a short “a” sound…like the “a” in cat). Grand-Da was shorter in stature than the Queen. He was dark-complexioned and had sleepy looking eyes, which my mother inherited. I remember him always wearing a hat. My granddaddy would shave with one of those straight-edged razors. You know the kind I’m talking about. Did you see “The Color Purple?” Well, remember the scene where Celie was shaving Mister and she was contemplating cutting his throat? Old Shug Avery wondered where Miss Celie was and when the children told her, Shug took off running across the field. You hear this wild music that seems to be building up to something getting ready to happen. The scene keeps jumping back and forth between Celie with the “look” in her eye that says, “I’m gonna cut his throat,” and Shug running as fast as she can across the field to keep Celie from doing anything she might regret. If you want to know the rest, rent the movie. Anyway, Grand-Da would shave with that kind of razor. I loved to watch him shave and it would be a close shave. His face would be as smooth as a baby’s bottom. My Grand-Da didn’t do things the easy way. He just didn’t. He had this shaving lather mixture that he would use. I never saw him spray it out of a can and had no idea from whence it came. He would apply it to his face with one of those barber/shaving brushes like you saw on the “I Love Lucy” show. Remember the episode when Lucy wanted to sing with the barbershop quartet and each time she attempted to sing her part, someone would stick the brush, with the shaving cream on it, in her mouth. Yes, I know. I watch a lot of television and movies. Grand-Da would apply this shaving lather and all I saw peeping out from the nose to chin were those two fully Black lips. I sat there and closely watched him. He’d sharpen that blade very carefully. Then he began the slow tedious process, which her performed almost daily. I watched him nick himself. He wouldn’t miss a beat. Grand-Da would wipe the blood and keep going. Then came the best part. He’d dash on the Old Spice, and I’d rub his face between my two tiny hands. Boy, he spelled good! Let me tell you, I loved me some George Staton! I loved my granddaddy!
Grand-Da was the very opposite of the Queen. He was quiet. You never knew what he was thinking. He was a hunter. I never thought he worked, but that’s because he had become disabled by the time I came along, but he used to work on the rail cars from what I was told. Grand-Da could do no wrong in my sight. I never heard him speak a harsh word to anyone, except the Queen on this one occasion when she raised her voice at me because she thought I had made my baby cousin cry. Thank God that Grand-Da witnessed the whole thing and was able to come to my defense. You know, people think I’m very hard-hearted, but I’m actually quite tender-hearted. For the Queen to falsely accuse me, it crushed me. It didn’t damage my relationship with her, but I knew I was no longer her “baby” granddaughter. My cousin, who was six years my junior had taken my place. I would vie for my grandmother’s attention until the day she died, but it would never be regained. So, all I had was my Grand-Da. I only had him for six years. He died when I was in the first grade. I didn’t even remember him being sick, but mother told me he had been so much so that he had to be hospitalized. And that’s where he died. For me, Grand-Da was my father. If I keep talking about not having him, it’ll make me cry I’m just thankful that I had him for as long as I did. As I told you before, Grand-Da was a hunter and he loved catching wild game and he’d have my grandmother prepare it after he killed the animal and cut up its meat. I saw him pull that black leathery skin off catfish. I saw him de-shell and kill a large snapping turtle. I loved the ruggedness of Grand-Da and back then, my stomach wasn’t queasy and I could just sit out back and watch him kill, gut and drain the blood out of anything. There were other rituals that I had with my grand-daddy. I would let my nails grow in order that one of those rituals would be fulfilled on a weekly basis. Each week, Grand-Da would take his pocketknife, pop out the always, sharp blade and clean the dirt from under my fingernails. Lord, sometimes I would just go wallow in dirt so he’d have dirt to clean from them. Remember before when I said he didn’t do things the simple way? Well, this was no different. Instead of taking nail clippers and cutting my nails, he would take the blade of the knife and start and the outer part of the nail and cut the nail off. Our other ritual was the “Boogedy-Boo Man.” This was a ride that he made up for me. I sit on his knee and he’d buck that old arthritic knee like a wild bull trying to throw me off. Truth was he was holding on so tight to my shirt because he wanted to make sure I never fell off or got hurt. I don’t know if my cousins or sister rode the “Boogedy-Boo Man,” but I didn’t care. When I wanted to ride, he never said no, even if he didn’t feel well. I loved my granddaddy. I just can’t say that enough. I never realize how much I missed him. When he died, I began biting my nails until they would be bloody and all chewed up sometimes. I didn’t realize it until after I started the journal that I bit my nails as an outward display of my missing our routine, our ritual, him. I bit my nails until I was in the 11th grade and then one day I just decided to stop cold turkey.
My paternal grandparents were good also. I think they always felt guilty about how my dad just left us. Sometimes I would find them trying to cover for him by trying to come up with a reason as to why he hadn’t done what he said he would do. Grand-Da Bill and Grandma Bert. That’s what I called them until my maternal grandparents died and then I dropped their names. I saw them daily, too but I always felt closer to my maternal grandparents. Grandma Bert was an excellent baker. She could bake anything. She would bake me, my sister and mother a cake for each of our birthdays and sometimes she would just bake a cake or pie for us just because. Grand-Da Bill was lame in his feet and legs, but he could walk. His legs were twisted and it seemed as if his spine were, too. He had this old Ford LTD and he had it customized so that one foot could reach the gas pedal. For the brake pedal, he had to have a hand-controlled stick connected to the brake and installed. Grand-Da Bill had this old chair that he always sat in right in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace, and whenever I went in the house, I’d plop myself right down on the arm of that chair and curl up beside him. He always called me “Old Blue Eyes.” When I was a baby, I had gray eyes, but they also looked blue or green or hazel. He thought they looked bluer and that’s just what he called me. My grandparents were very generous. They didn’t have much, but they tried to make up for an absentee father and his shortcomings. Bless my grandfather’s heart, as I got older, I knew he had covered for my father. I soon began to distance myself from them because I could no longer take the cover-ups and I knew my father could not keep his word. I just didn’t want to be disappointed anymore and I didn’t want to be cruel to them.
This has brought back very fond and very painful memories of my relationships with my grandparents, maternal and paternal. Let me be very clear, if you still have your grandparents, cherish them. They are such a blessing from God. Grandparents love you in a way that’s different than your parents. They spoil you, but they also discipline you and they keep your parents from beating the mess out of you! I never knew how much I missed them until now.
This is the line from which I descended, and all that to say my life, my journey is a family affair. No matter how flawed, how hurtful, how difficult, my family has played a part in shaping the woman I am today and the one I”m still becoming. They may not like the end result, but I do.