I don’t remember more than a few tidbits here and there of my life before I was around four or five. This is probably typical of most people, or at least I think it is.
I remember really desiring a pink cat so one night when my mom went to sleep, I snuck around and found some pink nail polish that I used to give my all white cat, Snowball a dye job. I’m sure my mom had fun getting that out of cat fur!
I remember getting my fingers stuck underneath a window that had fallen down unexpectedly while I was looking out at some kids playing. All eight of my fingers were lodged, and the adults around couldn’t get the window back up. I remember crying and crying and then all of my fingernails later turning black and falling off.
I remember a teenage babysitter telling me that we were going to play hide and seek and then locking me in a closet and refusing to let me out for a long time.
I remember a horrid, horrid man named R.W. who used to abuse my mother so badly that I would wake up in cold sweats and screaming, terrified that my mother was dead.
I remember going to work with my mom and watching all the people around me.
But, that is basically it.
Then I turned five. I don’t know or remember anything about the circumstances surrounding my mother and I at the time, but I do know that my mom wanted us to move. She wanted to move back in with my grandparents for a time. I had never met my grandparents before. Partly, I assume was because we lived in another state, but mostly it was because my grandad had a problem. With me. Because of my skin color. You see, I’m a mulatto (black and white mixed). My mother was allowed to come live with my grandparents, but I was not. Obviously, my mother was not about to leave me behind.
I don’t know any of the ins and outs or inbetweens, but I do know that shortly before I was supposed to start kindergarten, my grandfather relented and we packed up and moved to their home in Virginia. I was shy. Who were these people that I never met before?
My grandfather seemed ready to open up and look past his feelings about different races and began to interact with me. One day, he asked me if I had ever had cookies and milk. Sure I had…but never together! My mother had never though to teach me the fine art of cookie dunking, so here was my grandad, willing to lay it all out for me. Out came the box of Nilla wafers and a nice, tall, cold glass of mik. I watched carefully as he took one and demonstrated how to dip the cookie in, let it soak(but not for too long or it would get soggy!), and then take it out and munch it up! I loved it! What a great idea! (Still, one of my favorite things. Who eats cookies without milk???)
Sadly, this would be one of the only moments I shared with my grandfather. Not long after we moved in, we were all gathered in the living room, watching the movie, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” when my grandfather started unexpectedly gasping for air. He had been battling cancer, but I didn’t know that at my age or what it even meant. My uncle David, who was still in high school at the time, my grandmother and my mom jumped up and started fanning him, doing anything and everything to try to help him breathe. I remember watching, wide-eyed, not knowing or understanding what was happening. At some point, my mother took me in to the bedroom and told me to wait there. I could hear voices, frantic voices, worried voices, but I stayed and waited. Finally, I heard paramedics arrived. I don’t remember if they worked on my grandfather or not, but I do know that not long after they got there, I was told that my grandfather had passed away.
It is an occasion that I will never forget, although my young mind couldn’t properly process all the details. My mother’s parents were the only grandparents I had ever known, the only ones I would ever know since my father was not in the picture, and now I would never get to know my grandfather. About a year later, my grandmother also passed away of cancer.
Since I’ve had children, I feel very blessed that they have grandparents on both sides who adore them and that they have the opportunity to get to know. It is one of those things that I sometimes feel wistful about(I wonder what it would have been like for mine to be around as I grew?), but even though I had a very short time with them, I am thankful to have at least one great memory that I can share with my children. We can lift up our glasses of milk and think of grandad.