She is sitting in Grandma Jane’s favorite chair. The hum of the air conditioner subdues her ears while she watches one of her favorite game shows on t.v. It is a balmy, hot summer’s day in Topeka, Kansas. The wind introduced itself at dawn, yet casually found peace beyond the clouds. It will not return. The family crowds Grandma Jane’s living room, waiting for a smorgasbord so profound, they will speak of it for years to come. It is July 4, 1986, and Sapphire is the first of many Grandchildren to come. She cannot hear some of the questions to the posed answers and she gets irritated.
“GJ, why do we always have family dinner here at your place?”
“When my mother, your Great-Granny Hattie-Lou died, I took over. My place became the place.”
“Why, though? Did she tell you to do it?”
“Nah, baby. Our family has passed this tradition down since the days of old. When one matriarch dies, another one fills the void. It is our job to make sure the family keeps on goin’.”
“So, your place is our place to keep our family going?
“That’s right, baby. Turn that stupid box down. I cannot hear myself think.”
Sapphire adjusts the volume to the television, wondering to herself how Grandma Jane can hear herself think over all of the noise her aunts, uncles, and uncles’ uncles make, yet cannot seem to think because the television is too loud. But, she doesn’t say this. She knows better. Disobeying Grandma Jane was like an affront to God. You never did it, you didn’t even think about doing it, so she immediately stopped thinking and moved out of the chair and got closer to the television.
“Sapph!!! Back up from that stupid box ‘fore you mess up your sight!”
*How did she even know I got closer to the t.v.?*
Grandma Jane was trained to know a child’s every move. You do not acquire this type of training from watching folks, it is only acquired by living through it. With seven children, all grown, Grandma Jane knew exactly what Sapphire would do and she was ready.
Sapphire backed away from the television, gathered her feelings, and headed toward the kitchen to see if she could help.
“GJ. Why can’t I sit closer to the t.v.?” I can’t hear. Uncle Boy is too loud. Uncle Ken won’t stop snoring. Auntie Thomasina hasn’t quit gossipping since she walked through the door. It’s the final round and I don’t even know what the answer was so I can think about the question. Why can’t I go in your room to watch the show?”
Grandma Jane slowly turns away from the collard greens settling in tint-colored water and wipes her hand on the towel next to the sink. She is searching for the right words to explain to her first grandchild, words that will stick, words that will quiet the eleven year old’s soul.
“Sapph, you gotta mind on you not like any child I know. You question things, wanna know how things work. Why this? What that? When’s this gonna happen? Child, you are a walking tell-me-something good version of your Granddaddy and sometimes… Sometimes, I have to catch myself before answering you cuz I think I’m talking to him. Come on and help me with these greens. Your Uncle Lu out there getting the grill fired up. I want my greens ready when that meat hits it.”
And, that’s how Grandma Jane eased Sapphire’s mind. She always had something for her to do. Something that would cause her to forget what she questioned in the first place. That was her job as matriarch of their family. Sapphire would one day understand.