After a series of mini strokes, my grandmother's memory began a descent into oblivion. She forgot everyone's name but remembered good manners. She never forgot to say, "Thank you, Honey."
It was ok being "Honey". I never minded sharing the name with my mother, daughter and granddaughter, or with the young black man with cornrows that was one of her caretakers. I especially liked that he was "honey", too.
My grandmother was as prejudiced as my uncle Bubs (her brother). It covered all ethnic groups and religions that didn't match her white Presbyterian self. Once she proudly told me that an Asian couple, driving down her block, had pulled over and asked about a house that was for rent nearby. She was proud of her quick thinking, and said, "that house has already been rented".
The last ten years of her life were spent in a nursing home, primarily being cared for by black nurses and aids. There's a certain grace in this. She was treated tenderly by her caretakers.
I think that along with forgetting all our names, she also forgot about race…mostly. Although, once when Jamal left the room she whispered, "he's colored, you know." But it seemed more an acknowledgement rather than a condemnation.
It's a shame to have a stereotype image of a person, especially your own dear grandmother. There are always so many fragments that don't fit into the puzzle of the whole being.
In high school I had two boyfriends. One played bagpipes, the other was half Jewish. I was sure my Scottish descended grandmother would prefer bagpipe boy. But, No, she said that the Scot didn't show me respect. He picked me up in a ratty t-shirt and hadn't shaved. If he cared about me, he'd shave and put on a nice shirt.
The other boy, sweet and shy and half Jewish was tall, dark and handsome. Hmmm, do you think that influenced her?
One day when I visited her in the nursing home, Jamal was brushing her hair, long, long white hair. Her hair was almost to her waist. Kind of cool, but it looked like a chore. So I said, "Maybe next time I should bring scissors and give her a hair cut."
"Oh, no," he said with a horrified tone, "I love doing Jeanie's hair. It's beautiful." He gently held out strands of fine long hair, wispy as wind, showing me it's beauty.
A few days later I was at the nursing home at lunch time. I wheeled my 96 year-old grandmother down to the lunch room, where she immediately started singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," She knew every word of the song.
She was quite surprised when I told her I was her granddaughter. Actually she didn't believe me. She giggled and said, "Noooo, you can't be my granddaughter. I'm not even married yet."
She was sweet and giddy. I loved her. And she looked adorable in cornrows.