2 Thessalonians 3:10 states that a man who does not work does not eat. From the time I was a little boy until now, this scripture has been instilled within me. My parents have always gotten up at the crack of dawn to get my sister and me ready for school and to head to work. When parents are usually pretty busy, they also have a support system in grandparents who step in and help out with some responsibility and even provide breaks when they were needed. When my parents needed that break, Gennie Mae Caston, my great-grandmother handled those duties.
Caston, born in 1918 has always been a hard-worker and caregiver. My mom has always told me she was a pillar in the community people could lean on and she would help take care of anyone. She even possessed an entrepreneurial spirit as she owned a juke joint according to my mother. Knowing my great-grandmother, that suits her perfectly. Seeing old pictures of her in her younger days, she could rock a dress like nobody’s business and probably dance with the best of them. She “paid it forward” by serving others and would help anyone when they were in need; simply put, she was selfless and this characteristic was ingrained within her. My mother faced adverse circumstances with her mother and father not really being present so guess who was there to help take in my mother and uncle? My great-grandmother.
Spending my childhood with her was extremely fun, but tough at the same time. She was loving and always made sure my sister and I had what we needed, but we always worked before we did anything. In the summer when my parents worked during the day, my sister and I would spend the day at her house until our parents got off of work. She was no stranger to sweating and she made sure we were not strangers to hard work either. I vividly remember hot summers with her in her garden pulling weeds, picking vegetables, and helping her cut her grass. She had this special straw hat that she would wear to keep the sun from directly beaming on top of her and of course I wanted to be like her, so she gave me one too. Everything she did, I wanted to do and I always followed her wherever she went. Even when she whipped me, I was mad, but my love for her never wavered even during the times she reared me. When she walked roads picking up cans for the “Can-Man” to come pick up, I did that with her. When she needed to go to the store, we would walk through the pasture together to get to the store. I would be remised if I did not mention her impeccable cooking. She grew eggplants in her garden that she and I would go out and pick, then go into the house, wash and cut them, then she would batter them in flour and fry them. The house smelled terribly, but surprisingly, they were extremely good; I have not eaten eggplants since childhood because that was our thing. My favorite dish of hers was her world famous macaroni and cheese she only made for me. The thing about my great-grandma were the rules she had when it came to eating. After she would whip up a hot meal, she would place it on the table for my sister and I, but did not want you to drink your beverage until you were close to finishing your food. She would always say, “Don’t you sit up there and drink ‘alat’ drink up without eating your food first!” Definitely cannot forget the numerous cobblers and cakes she made and sent home with my sister and me. How special were we huh? Of course, grandma’s cooking rivaled my mother’s, but they were pretty even! *wink wink*
Growing up in the circumstances that she did, my great-grandmother was tough as nails and if you were doing wrong, she would confront you about it. While walking my sister and I to school when we were younger, if she saw any of the other kids doing things they were not supposed to, she would get on to them even though she didn’t know them. She also has the uncanny ability to make grown men cry. With her being a pillar in her community, she simply cared about the well-being of here neighborhood and she was always doing what any seasoned elder would do when it came to watching activity going on outside. There is a guy that lives next door to her named Russell. Russell is as an unsavory character that you would ever come across based on his dealings of narcotics in his younger days, but my grandmother had no problem with telling him about himself. She would see him outside and confront him about his actions and he would stand there, listen attentively, and after she was done, he would simply say, “Yes ma’am.” The respect he had for her was immense and to this day, she could still make him cry when bringing up past history and discussing his grandparents with him. Whenever he sees me or my sister around, he will always ask, “How grandma doing?” He loves her like she is his grandmother and anyone who has ever came into contact with her feels this exact sentiment. This spoke to the level of respect that he as well as others in her community had for her.
Being that we live in a “super-size” society currently, one of the things I think us as creatures of habit fail to do is to not appreciate everything life offers. Waking up every day when someone didn’t, the smell of flowers, spending time with family, gentle gestures towards one another; little things such as this we take for granted. As I got older and progressed into my teenage years, I began working and was highly active in sports, so I didn’t visit my great-grandmother as much as I should have, but whenever she saw me, she was always glad to see me. My mother would bring her over to the house to wash her hair and those would be times we would share together with one another laughing and talking. She began to have health issues with her legs as poor blood circulation to her lower extremities called for amputation to be done. While at the hospital with her, I remember sitting next to my sister in the waiting room lobby crying our eyes out while my dad comforted my mother. We thought that possibly meant the dreaded “D” word would soon come to pass, but by the grace of God, it was not her time to ascend to His presence. She pulled through, but adjusting to life without legs was hard for her. For a woman to be so independent and could move like she wanted to, she had to cope with the fact that she could not do the things she was accustomed to doing.
At this current juncture in my life, I am blessed to still have my great-grandmother around. Our entire little family unit pitches in to help to take care of her as she is now 95-years-old and will turn 96-years-old in November. She recently had a doctor’s appointment where all signs and tests came back positive and she is in good health physically. Mentally, she has times where she has memory lapses and recalls some tough times from her childhood. Recently, she was diagnosed with dementia and congestive heart failure, but none of these things will take away our memories together. She will pull through this tough time and will come out of this situation better than ever. It is an experience going through this for not only her, but my family also. My mom reiterates how she always pitched in to help any and every one she could and now that she is in her golden years, she is finally getting to rest and we’re taking on the responsibility of caring for her. The task is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is necessary.
Other than my mother and sister, she is the most special woman in my life and I learned so much from her. Work hard, persevere, and continue to do blaze your own path even when you can’t see where you are going were values she instilled within me. She was stern, but fair and always had advice for me whenever I was going through something. Grandparents are vital to the development of their grandchildren and she has definitely been the second defining force in my life after my parents. The late Tupac Shakur said in his song, “Dear Mama”, “Ain’t a woman alive can take my mama’s place” and I wholeheartedly agree with that statement but I would like to echo and add to this sentiment, “Ain’t a woman alive that can take my mama and great-grandma’s place.”