At the time you’re seeing this I am in Rochester NY as the funeral is about to start for my grandmother, Hazel Beverly, who passed away last Thursday at age 90 in her sleep. I thought it was important enough to take a break to talk about her on this day.
I hate to say this, but my grandmother’s side of the family is steeped in mystery; at least for me. Just last Thursday, after she passed away, did I learn that I have Cherokee Indian blood; of all things. I knew I had native American blood in me from my grandfather’s side, but no one knew which tribe he was from. The next day I learned that my grandmother’s only surviving sibling, who we were lucky enough to track down from the airport an hour before he was supposed to be going home, had a son along with the two daughters I knew about already. And it’s not that he’s ashamed of his son; it’s just that, in general, they all come from a generation where no one talks about anything without some reason for it to come up.
That’s how it was with my grandmother, who I always felt had Dean Martin cool about her. She was unflappable, even though a life that had its ups and downs, like most lives. She just went with whatever came up, and only having one daughter and one grandson to keep up with, felt life was pretty good.
She was proud when I graduated college, seeing as how she left school in the 8th grade. She was proud to know I played piano and sang because the did the same. She thought I was the funniest person she’d ever met; I loved to try to make her laugh. She was the one who introduced me to beets, red hot dogs, biscuits and syrup, grits, green pea soup with ham sandwiches and peanut brittle.
One of those strange memories is that she used to take me to church with her when I was 10 years old, living in Kansas City. She was devout but I think she took me for the entertainment value and to get me out of the house. It was my introduction to and probably my only experience with black churches and pretty much church in general. It was interesting because people would scream out, sing out, jump up and start dancing at almost any time, and the choir music… well, if you’re not used to traditional black church beats, which are based on 16th notes rather than quarter notes when you want to get people juiced up, still resonate in my mind more than 40 years later; I never learned how to play any of this type of music unfortunately.
But my grandmother didn’t do any of that. She wore the same Sunday dress every week she went, the same hat, and she had this quiet dignity that kept her from acting out. When I questioned her about it, as we were surrounded with all these other people that were, well, really into it, she just said “Every person gets out of it what they feel they need to get into their lives”. That was it; in her mind, nothing else needed to be said.
And that’s really one of those lessons that, from time to time, I hope I learned from her. She was pretty quiet; she only spoke when she felt something needed to be said, or when I’d ask her questions. She was sharp until the last 5 years of her life, when we’d talk about the weather for 30 minutes at a time because she couldn’t remember what I’d just said to her. But her long term memory was always there until the last few months, and she told me a few things here and there that I’ll never be allowed to disclose, but helped flesh out the family history just a little bit more.
I thank you Miss Hazel, my grandmother, for my mother, for allowing us to have a place to live while Dad was in Vietnam, for giving us a great laugh and story when you got “bus left”, for my Kansas City Chiefs jacket, for my crocheted bowling ball and pin, and for just being you, steady and cool. I’ll miss you for the rest of my life.