It’s August and school is about to start here. All my life, that’s meant fall weather and football games. Here in Swaziland it’s spring. I’m not normally the one to be homesick, but the chilly, sometimes foggy spring mornings remind me of my childhood in Northern California in more ways than one.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My paternal grandmother, Johnnie, was from Alabama. I called her by her first name until I had children who call her “Grandma Johnnie.” I didn’t realize it until I went to college and told my dorm mates to be quiet because my grandmother was on the phone. We had been crowded around my small television set, watching the Cosby Show. My grandmother–NEVER called long distance and I thought someone had died. I hung up the telephone stunned that Johnnie had just called to check on me–I was her first grandchild to go away to college. After I hung up the telephone, the crowd of southern girls in the hallway pounced on me–“Did you just call your grandmother by her first name??? Oh my GAWD!!!” I was from California so I was interesting and weird like a foreign bug to them.
Neither of my grandmothers ever seemed to sleep. They were up when I went to bed and up when I woke up in the morning. But the two were very different characters. Johnnie was from the country, Thomasville, Alabama. I would wake up, cold, on chilly spring weekend mornings to find Johnnie sitting at the kitchen table with a chair turning facing out the open back door, shelling peas, cleaning greens, or cutting fruit from the huge garden in the back yard. In addition to indigenous California plants, she had brought Alabama to Sacramento.
This weather reminds me of those days. I would take a shower to warm me up and go into her backyard hungry. I’d eat peaches, grapes, pears, and anything else I found that looked appetizing. Everything in her yard was good and sweet. As I played in the backyard, it would get warmer as the sun rose higher. By the time breakfast was ready, I was too full of fresh fruit to eat anything.
Though I have a gardener, who is currently putting my garden together, I can’t help but think of Johnnie and my late grandfather Leguster in the spring sun, weeding the collard greens and planting rows of whatever.
I visited Johnnie last September. She was 92, sitting on a stool, weeding collard greens. She’s 93 now, and definitely not up with the chickens anymore, but probably doing the same thing.
I learned today that Grandma Johnnie died on Saturday, 8 April, 2017 just after her 94th birthday. I selfishly cry because I thought I would have a chance to see her again, but I guess heaven needed her more.
She is well loved and will be sorely missed.