A Bit About My Grandmother

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately. Honestly, I think of her pretty much every day. She is one of the few true loves of my life, one my dearest friends, and though she has been gone for more than half of my life, she has never left my side. I can’t say for sure that I believe in guardian angels, but in the very same breath I can say that I know my grandmother is my guardian angel.

My grandmother’s name was Nannie Hancock Walker and she was crazy. She favored purple lipstick, blue nail polish, fake leopard skin, and she never left the house without one of her wigs on—even though they often sat crooked on her head. She kept a saw in the trunk of her car, just in case she drove past a tree that had fallen over on the side of the road; she would pull the car over, and start cutting the fallen tree into pieces that could be used for firewood, while me and my cousins watched mortified in the car as the 8-track blared Nat King Cole or Freddy Fender—two of her favorites. My grandmother loved pretty much everyone, except for Gladys Knight, because she was convinced my grandfather would one day leave her for the singer. She embraced everyone with open arms and everyone who ever met her fell for her.

One of the things I find interesting is how much my mother is like my grandmother, even though they are not related by blood. My mother was never that close to her own mother, and I don’t think she had begun to grow into herself until Grandma Walker liberated her. But that’s part of what made Nannie Walker so special. She was the patron saint of wounded souls.

But like I said, my grandmother was crazy. She lost one of her sons, my father, before he was 23 years-old. A few years after that, she lost his older brother, my Uncle Mark, to leukemia. To hear my grandfather tell the story, Grandma lost her mind for a while, and everyone was worried that she might never recover from the death of Uncle Mark. I only have vague memories of these times. But I do know that my grandmother pulled through, in part because of my grandfather’s unwavering love for her through better or worse, through sickness and health.

The last time I saw my grandmother healthy was January 1983—that is when this picture was taken. Shortly after that, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. The doctors only gave her a few months to live, but she lasted for over a year, during which time the cancer robbed her of most of her memories. When she finally passed away in March of 1985, it was the final sentence in a story that had gone on too long.

I was devastated by her death, and even as I write this, I realize how much it still hurts. There were so many moments I had looked forward to having my grandmother around for, but we never even made it to my high school graduation. And without her around to be a part of my life, I have long struggled with feelings that I can only describe as incomplete. Like so many sons and grandsons, raised by women who loved and protected us to the best of their ability, I realize that part of my life has been spent seeking approval from someone who is no longer in this plane of existence.

Don’t get me wrong, because I have not been crippled by the need for my grandmother’s approval—at least not that crippled. But I often wonder what she would think of the things I have written, the films I have made, or simply the man I have become. I wonder if she would have a problem with the profanity that often flows from my mouth like shit through a goose. I wonder if she would look at my tattoos and think I’m a freak. I wonder what she would think of the women I have dated, or how she would feel about the fact that I have yet to settle down.

Sometimes I think that maybe the reason I have yet to settle down is because it just doesn’t seem worth it if my grandmother isn’t around to give her approval. Of course, I know that’s just a cop-out, some pathetic excuse to cover up for the bad choices I’ve made when it comes to dating. Still, it would be nice to find some that I know my grandmother would approve of, and who would look to her for fashion tips.

If she were alive, Nannie Walker would turn 91-years-old this week. I wish she was still with me, wearing her crooked wigs, purple lipstick, and hot pink pants, putting her arm around me and saying, “Give me some sugar, baby.”
Oh wait…she is still with me.

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