The Boy from Virginia Remembers (Part 2)

I find that since I’ve begun this New Year, I’ve done way more reflecting than I’ve ever done. Maybe it has to do with the promise I made to my grandmother, or maybe it has to do with the fact that since I’ve been in Scotland, I’m around nothing that s truly familiar to me. Yes, they have fast food chains galore (McDonalds, Subway, KFC and Pizza Hut) and even an H&M, but recipes and fashion sense don’t transfer as well as one would imagine. What I’ve concluded, however, is that experiences and emotions can never be lost in translation. Therefore, I will continue to pay tribute to the woman who has influenced me her whole life: Nellie Jones, my grandmother.

Last week, I started at the beginning of my grandmother’s life. Now I want to share with you the moment she helped to bring another person into this world: me.

            It was April of 1985 and I guess I’d fooled my mother the day before, making her think I was ready to show my face to the world. But it wasn’t until the second of April that I decided to make my debut.

            “It was a hard birth, “ my mother recalls. “I was in labor for 18 hours with you. I’d expected you to come in March, but you just didn’t want to leave” (Maybe I was just waiting for the right time. What if March just wasn’t my month? Or can babies be fashionably one week late?) But my mother told me an interesting tale of a significant someone who did want to leave…during my birth: “Your father told me that he needed to go home and put the lights on.”

            In his absence, fear, and lack of concern for his wife, my grandmother (a nurse at the time) dutifully rushed to her daughter’s side. She got off work at five o’clock and waited for me to take the stage in the delivery room and scream my very first note of life. She didn’t wait patiently, but instead was an active participant in the delivery. My mother says, “You were a hard birth, Tom. And your grandmama kept telling me to “push push push push push” and I was like ‘YOU PUSH!!! This mess hurts!’”

I remember my grandmother saying to me, “Baby, I never pushed so hard in my life. I kept telling your Momma to ‘PUSH Push push push push!’ (She still gets winded when she tells this story) I was sweating and ooooo I was tired. I needed a drink after that. Shoot…I never pushed so much in my life. ”

            I arrived at 10:29pm. No sooner was I born did my grandmother take me into her arms and cradle me, making her the very first family member to touch me at all. Our bond has been tight ever since. (My mom had to ask her mother, “Um…can I hold my child please?”) My grandmother left to go home not too long after, but it wasn’t until 2 am in the morning that my father decided to return to the hospital. I guess turning the lights on was difficult. (Turns out he was actually turning on someone else, which eventually turned my mother’s love off of him)

            The story goes that for 19 days after, my mother was parylyzed in the hospital due to the epidural she took while giving birth. This meant that I spent my first 19 days getting to know my grandmother. I apparently would cry from the moment she left for work until the moment she came home. And when I was able to walk, I knew what time she would be home because I was at the door (in my walker, mind you) waiting for her.

            There was a time when waiting for her was scary for me though. When I was six, she took my cousin and I on a trip to Disney World. Talk about first times! I’d never been south of Virginia before and to do so, with one of the coolest women in the world, was more than I could’ve asked for! The waiting occurred when we’d decided to get on a sensible ride that promoted aviation (I think we were in Tomorrowland, or something). Once we’d gone through the long line to actually get on the ride, I noticed that the floor was moving. So basically the gist was that we had to run and climb into our seat in this moving aero-car vehicle before it went through a door leading to the land of flying.

My cousin and I hurried into the car, but it took my grandmother a little longer to get to us. It was then that I became aware of my grandmother’s age. Getting older, from then on, would mean not being able to move as fast as you once could. My grandmother made it into the moving car seconds before we went through the door to whereevers-ville. That moment would be forever etched in my mind as “Grandmama’s Indiana Jones moment.”

Miss Jones (as every family member so lovingly calls her), had other moments of bravery as well. She was courageous enough to teeter about every Sunday in 3-5 inch heels. Her suits were always dignified and her hats were some of the most beautiful architecture pieces anyone would wear. She was very stately and the epitome of strength and beauty. It made me proud to see her on Sunday’s because she looked rich, aristocratic, and queenly. Those images of my grandmother in her Sunday best are the best memories. But none of them make me laugh as much as the following instant:

“ Once,” she told me, as she was talking about the return of bellbottoms to the fashion scene, “I decided I was going to put on a pair of my old bellbottoms. I thought I was hot shit. I mean, I had on my platforms and my favorite bellbottoms and so I went for a walk. Well, I was heading across the street. I forgot where I was going, but there was no need to remember it because I never made it there. While I was walking, my platform heel got caught in my bellbottoms and I tripped and fell right in the middle of the street. Talk about embarassin’! Babay, I skinned my knee and my elbow. Once I got up, I trotted right back home and put those clothes away. I’m too old for those young girl looks.”

Truth is, she never looked like she aged to me. How could I think she was old when her favorite song was “My Baby Daddy?” When it came on, she sometimes danced as much as me. I once taught her how to do the Bankhead Bounce (back when that was the dance of choice) and she picked it up easy. What wasn’t easy for her, I’m sure, was being at her father’s funeral.

It was August of 1990. It was hot outside, but the emotions inside the church were in the negative degrees. All I remember was constantly looking to my grandmother and her siblings to see if they were crying. (I figured that every funeral was going to have people falling to their knees, losing their minds, like in the TV shows and movies I’d seen) I was waiting for the wailing to begin, but it never happened. That’s because the look on my grandmother’s face was terse. Her jaw looked as if it were clinched so hard she could’ve drawn blood. The only tear that escaped her eye trickled down her right cheek and seemed to hang there (as if falling completely from her face would give my great-grandfather too much power). He was dead, and though I’m sure all the children were sad about it, they kept it all inside, with the rest of their pent-up anger. I on the other hand, thought the man deserved some sort of proper sympathy, so once the funeral was over, I wailed (which made my grandmother and my mother say, “Aww…bless his heart”). They were the first smiles I’d seen that day.

I remember a lot of my grandmother’s smiling moments. One of her best moments was when I spent a summer living with her. I was working as a Librarian’s assistant for the Norfolk Public Library and keeping my grandmother company as well. It was during this time that my grandmother would make me lunch (usually a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a soda). She’d put it in a brown bag and have it waiting in the fridge for me to grab before I left in the morning. There was a morning, however, when my grab bag had been seized by another..

“Baby,” my grandmother started. I heard the smile in her voice though I knew she was not really pleased. “Your cousin came in here last night and must’ve gotten the idea that your food was his. (He had the munchies…that was the truth of the matter)     He ate your lunch. That’s why I’m up making you a new one.” It was a situation that would only happen in my grandmother’s house. I laughed at it’s absurdity, and realized that no matter what, my grandmother was still taking care of me. At 7 am, here she was spreading mayo on white bread and putting a Sprite in my bag. She had never given up her duty of grandmotherhood, nor of being a complete matriarch for the entire family. One year we honored her with a surprise.

It was either Christmas of 1997 or 1998, but my grandmother decided to have a Christmas program for the family. It was a night of singing, eating, and children reciting Christmas poems. We’d never done it before so it took a lot of planning and my grandmother asked me to help her. A project? Where I could be creative? Hell yeah, I was on board! Little did she know that my mother and my uncles were planning to give my grandmother a plaque that would celebrate her as a key figure in our family. The program went off with no problems, it was a pure success, and so was the surprise. My grandmother teared up and so did my mother (who presented the mauve plaque to her). The moment was more than Kodak…it was priceless.


As I finish this particular instalment in the Chronicles of Nellie, I’ve received news that she is back in the hospital making me realize that I best get cracking on part 3 of her life story. Her blood count is low and she’s going to continue fighting with the strength she has left. Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for the last of my special memories…


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