As I get older I’m beginning to look more like my mom, but when I was a child she always said I looked just like her mom, my nana. I couldn’t see it when I was younger, but when comparing pictures of us around the same age, the similarities are more obvious. I’ve also been told that my personality and temperament are very much like my nana’s. I’m thankful that I still have very sweet memories of her, though I was only seven years old when she died, leaving me with just one living grandparent.
My dad’s mom, grandma Jean, is the epitome of a grandmother. When I was young I loved looking at the pictures of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on her book shelf. I knew better than to touch them or any of the delicate knick-knacks mixed in amongst the photographs, but I loved looking. Now there are pictures great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren on the shelves. I’m thankful, not only to still have a living grandparent, but more importantly, I’m thankful that grandma Jean is still fairly healthy and quite independent.
Both of my grandfathers died when my parents were young. In different ways, both fought battles that I’ll never fully understand. Black men faced more blatant challenges back then. Redlining, limited employment opportunities, dangerous working conditions, leaving your home state to avoid Jim Crow, or simply not being acknowledged as a man must have been hard for them. I wish I had known them, but I’m thankful for who they were to my parents. I’m also thankful for my early memories with grandma Jean’s second husband, Buck. He died when I was very young too, but I still remember him as kind, funny pop-pop who is smiling in all of my memories of him.
I’ve really been blessed to have grown up with dozens of elders in my life. When I was born I had two grandmothers and two great-grandmothers. Grum, grandma Jean’s mother, lived a long life, dying when I was in my twenties. Grandma Sarah, my mom’s father’s step-mother, was nearly 100 when she died.
My mom’s parents both grew up in large families on farms in neighboring counties in Virginia. Most of them lived into adulthood and many into advanced old age. That’s one reason that, although by age seven I only had one remaining grandparent (and one great-grandmother), I have never wanted for attention from older people. They were some of my favorite people to spend time with, always making me feel loved.
I had more great-aunts and great-uncles than anyone I knew. I also had older relatives who were my mom’s second or third cousins, as well as elders I knew from church and my neighborhood. On top of that, the older relatives of my extended family welcomed me as one of their own.
I’m forever grateful to all of them. They took care of me when my mom needed their help. They fed me, taught me things, invited me to their homes, gave me little gifts, allowed me to build forts in their living rooms out of blankets and furniture, held me on their laps, sang goofy songs with me and always showered me with kindness and love. They were my protectors and encouragers. They were my creative partners and the source of much of my laughter.
I’m also very thankful for the elders that I never knew, whose lives continue through the stories of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My grandfathers, Alfred Gaskins, Sr. and Ronald Tucker, Sr. are the first that come to mind but there are many more. I’m thankful for the all of the Braxtons, Thompsons, Gaskins’, Stewarts, Lees, Andersons, Tuckers, Curtises, Newmans and more.
I’m thankful that they were brave enough to create new homes in Pennsylvania, seeking a better life. I’m also thankful for those who were brave enough to stay and fight for better lives in their homes in Virginia and North Carolina.
I’m related by blood to many, but I was equally loved by others who were my family by choice. My Godmother’s parents, Mabel and Willie Wilson, were like my own grandparents. My maternal grandparent’s good friends, Frank and Ann Comfort, were another set of grandparents.
I have no interest in giving thanks for the generosity of indigenous people to those who would promptly repay them with theft, slander and genocide. This week, as I consider everything for which I am thankful, I’m choosing to focus on the elders who made my childhood beautiful. I’m thankful that some are still living and I’m appreciative to all of the elders who have loved me.
In loving and thankful memory of:
My nana and pop-pop, Pauline (Braxton) & Alfred Gaskins, Sr.
Grandpa Buck (Grandma Jean’s 2nd husband), Atwell Buckner
Nana’s siblings and their spouses: Ted & Thelma Braxton, Harvey & Sarah Braxton, Elijah & Mildred Braxton, Jack Braxton, Pearl Usual, Ruth and Jerry Henley, Florence Braxton, and Lewis Braxton
Pop-pop’s siblings and their spouses: Charles Gaskins, Margaret and Theodore Henry, Mildred Gaskins, and Gertrude Gaskins
My great-grandmothers, Sarah Gaskins and Margaret Anderson
Extended family: Irene and Thadeus Smith, Otelia (Susie) & John-Willie Gaskins, Mabel & Willie Wilson, Lavinia & Leslie Wilson, Irene (Nee-nee) Lee, Mrs. Dorothy Talley, Miss Effie, Mrs. Ryales, Sarah & Eddie Curtis, Bernice Carney Comfort, and Frank Comfort, Jr.