In conjunction with Women’s History Month, my 11 year old daughter came home from school with an assignment to write a paper about a female member of her family that was no longer with us.
She chose her great grandmother, whom she never had the chance to meet but shares a middle name.
As part of this assignment she had to interview at least two members of our family who knew Nana using a series of questions supplied by her teacher.
As is her wont, she dove into the assignment with an efficiency to complete it quickly and exactly as assigned. So within two days, she called both her grandmother and her great aunt to ask them the pre-set questions about Nana - their mother.
It was awesome to see her come out and excitedly tell me things that she had learned. “Daddy did you know that Nana and Great Grandpa lifted their own house off the ground to pour their foundation?” (No I did not)
When it was my turn to be interviewed, I asked before answering the questions, if I could just share some other things with her. I showed her a handwritten letter from Nana where she heartbreakingly wrote about the pain she was experiencing due to her lupus. I read the eulogy I gave at her funeral talking about what she meant to all of us. We looked at our family tree on ancestry.com where she chuckled at her maiden name (Stupplebeen) and I told her stories of trips I took with her as an adult that forever changed my life.
Typically, my daughter would grow impatient and would want to do the assignment just as given. Instead she sat raptured by the stories, trying to decipher the handwritten letter, asking questions and learning more about a woman who literally made her own life possible.
I also played her excerpts from my latest podcast episode, featuring celebrity Chef Aaron Sanchez. Ironically, while we covered a great deal of topics, our primary focus was on family - including a lengthy discussion of our grandmothers.
We talked about how important it was to learn about our elders while they are here - and tell their stories once they are gone.
This sentiment was echoed in a recent review of the new book, The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation. Quoting the author, the review concludes with: "It is only a disservice when we hide ourselves. When our children do not know what we have gone through and how we survived it, when we allow others to define who we are.”
As Aaron and I learned about each other’s grandmas (including why in his opinion grandmas are always the best cooks in their families), we actually took a pause to encourage people to stop listening to the podcast and reach out to their grandparents and learn their stories.
So if your grandparents are still with you, please consider doing the same. If they sadly are no longer alive, then perhaps do the next best thing and ask another family member to share a story about them with you.