My grandmother never hugged me. She rarely spoke to me unless she had to and she seldom told me that she loved me “just because.” Growing up, I felt as though I had been robbed of the historical stories that any grandmother would tell. When other children spoke about their grandmothers’ being present to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak and about horror stories with reference to living “down south”, I sat back and listened, secretly wishing my grandmother, who I affectionately named Grandy, would change overnight. I hoped that one day I would walk into the house and be met with an embrace and a story about how those nasty, slithering snakes that used to crawl into the shack she lived in in Alabama or about how fortunate my generation is to be receiving an education. In actuality, Grandy would never exchange those types of stories with me or any stories for that matter. There was never a time when we sat down for the sole purpose of having a conversation and there definitely was never a time when she willingly told me that she loved me. Only after I said it first would she let the words “Love you too” escape her lips.
I knew and have always known what it means to accept someone for who they are. As a little girl I realized that I would never receive love from Grandy in the way that I was used to receiving it from my mother who hugged and kissed me on a daily basis. It is my belief that we never truly appreciate affection until it is absent from our lives.
One day, out of a combination of sheer curiosity and hopelessness, I asked my mother why Grandy did not show me affection in the way that I was used to it being shown. My mother revealed to me that as a small girl, Grandy was the only child out of nine who was given away for adoption. Shortly afterwards, she was adopted into an alcoholic family who never had the time, energy or the know-how to show her affection. She eventually grew into a woman filled with love that she was unable to show. After learning about Grandy’s past, I began to understand the reasons why her arms would raise reluctantly when I gave her a hug or why she never sat me down and talked to me for hours about history like all of the other grandmothers did. She had never had a nurturing relationship when she was younger, so she did not know how to give love.
I can recall very clearly when I was seventeen years old, Grandy was not feeling very well and was lying idle in the hospital bed. My mother and I had been sitting with her for about three hours that day. The cold, winter weather had caused the sun to go down in the short time that we were there. I prepared to bundle myself up before stepping outside. I knew that my coats,—I usually wore two—hat, scarf, gloves all had to be in place before I stepped outside or else Grandy would worry about me catching a cold. As I turned my back to leave my grandmother, she uttered a couple of words that many would have taken for granted. I heard her frail, cracked voice utter the words: “Love ya.”
I can remember looking startled as if she had shouted an obscenity in my direction. I turned to look at her. She looked awkward as if she did not know what to do next. “I love you too,” I stated casually in an attempt to erase her awkwardness.
Her words “love ya” have lingered in my mind ever since. Once Grandy saw that it was not the end of the world to show someone affection, she has since become a lot more aware of her actions and now makes a conscientious effort to show love in any way that she can. She still struggles with the notion of love and still has a great difficulty with expressing herself, but she now knows that the way she shows love is something that she can control. Now, I never leave the house without hearing the two words that have taught both Grandy and I a valuable lesson. “Love ya” has become more than just a phrase in our household. It has become a way of life, a tool for living and a core belief that we will never abandon.
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