Whenever I think of strong women, women to admire, and women to give me inspiration, I honestly think of the women in my family first. Flora Crockett, my great-grandmother, being the first of those women.
It may sound cliché to say she led an exemplary life, but she did, and to be honest, I didn’t realize that until I was a divorced woman with children myself.
In the beginning my relationship with my great-grandmother was complicated. She never attended the countless family picnics, trips to the amusement parks, or big Sunday dinners at my Aunt Darlene’s house. She was a strict and staunch Christian woman. She made church very unappealing to me, and it was the only interaction I was forced to have with her. Every Saturday night my cousins and I (my aunt’s five and myself) would be dropped off at my grandmother’s house, who lived upstairs from my great-grandmother, so we could attend church the following day. Those Saturday nights are only one of the many special moments of my childhood. The six of us would lie on our made up pallets and watch a very small television and the must-see-TV of the ’70s line-up, consisting of The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and The Carol Burnett Show. Somehow an argument would erupt and we’d end up in a big fight. My cousin Donna always beat me up me in those fights. It’s funny, because I know I was brat and I credit those beat-downs with teaching me to be humble. Usually before we got dressed for church we’d all be friends again.
The next morning we were off to church with Great-ma. We’d either pile up in my grandmother’s green Cadillac or the church van would pick us up. My grandmother never attended church with us because she, like our parents, was out partying the night before. Great-ma taught Sunday school and it was never particularly fun. She never smiled, never laughed, and it seemed as if everything we did was wrong with hell looming, although she never said that. I was happy to move up to Mr. Hagen’s class a few years later.
I don’t remember a time, ever, when my great-grandmother hugged me or even said a nice word to me in my childhood. It was a privilege for me to even sit in her dining-room, in her immaculate apartment downstairs, amongst all the things I thought queens had in their homes. Still, I admired her and wanted to be in her good graces. I wanted her to smile, pat me on the head, and give me a great big hug. I wanted her attention, like I received from everyone else. By the time I was eleven, I didn’t have to go to church anymore, my mother converted to Islam, and I concluded Great-ma was just mean and dismissed her the way I felt she dismissed me.
I moved away, had three children, divorced, and when I came back home my great-ma was completely different from my early memories. She was kinder. She kissed me and hugged me and was always happy to see my children, my cousin’s children, my cousins, and myself. I never felt unwelcome in her palace. Maybe it was the death of her daughter years earlier, or the passing of all her siblings, or even seeing her own grandchildren pass away, but she seemed now to really want to enjoy the ones left in her life.
I never knew much of her story other than the basics. She and my great-grandfather, Reverend Milton Crockett, divorced. She was not a nurse, but wore a nurse’s uniform (later I found out she was an LPN) and she owned the home where she and my grandmother lived before my grandmother bought her own home. All of those things were remarkable for a black woman in her time. She was strong and independent. I didn’t know of all the help she gave my grandmother and her children when I was younger. I didn’t know she was the backbone or matriarch of our family, I thought it was my grandmother, but she was silently doing what needed to be done in the background.
We all laugh now about how reclusive she was back then. Maybe she was going through some things during that time, as I have in my life. Maybe she suffered in silence and retreated into religion ‘til she found a happy place again. Whatever was going on in the beginning of our relationship to make it complicated, it did not end that way at all. The last twenty years with her have been wonderful and full of love and attention that I wanted from her all along.
The last ten years she lived in two assisted living homes, so she would have around-the-clock medical care. My mom called her every evening at 7:00 p.m. and we all visited her regularly, and every year we had a huge birthday celebration for her. She absolutely looked forward to them like a child would look forward to his birthday and getting presents.
Great-ma told my mom a few weeks before her hundredth birthday that she was holding on until then, but she felt her mind slipping. All along she’d remembered our names, could recite her only child’s name, where she was born, and who her parents were, but on January 22, her brain just wanted to rest. Amazing, she was true to her word, she held on until her birthday, but the mental decline was quick. She died peacefully 6:30 a.m. last Sunday.