January 23, 2016
Today is a very special day. It is the birthday of your great grandmother, my grandmother, otherwise known as Ma to everyone who knew her. She would have been 99 years old today! I miss her every day.
She was a tall, slender woman. She had amazing grey eyes. She loved us unconditionally. There’s so many things to know about Ma, I’ll just talk about a few of them today.
On Coming To America
In lots of ways, you could say that a big part of why you exist today is because Ma came to America a long, long time ago — for me.
When I was about 2, We lived at 1526 Purdy Street in the Bronx. We lived in the upstairs unit with not just our family but a bunch of my cousins — we packed in tight way back then. Everybody worked so I used to go to a babysitter during the days while everyone was away. My babysitter lived on the lower unit in our house.
I’m too young to remember much, if any of this, but I can tell you what Grandma has told me. The man that used to watch me was a real son-of-a-bitch. I’m not sure why they would bother watching a baby if they didn’t want to bother cleaning or feeding him. And there’s just no excuse for ever hitting a baby.
I guess after some time in this, I would be terrified every time they dropped me off. I was losing weight and not doing all that well. Grandma took me to the doctor and, as she says it, he told her (paraphrasing) “If you want save your child, you need to get him out of there”.
That’s when Ma came. Grandma asked her to come to America from Guyana to help raise us. So yeah, you could say in some way that Ma saved my life.
On Raising Two Boys
Both your grandparents were busy working as hard as they could to help raise us up. Ma became like our second mom. She did everything us, spoiled us whenever she could, and defended us like it was nobody’s business.
When we lived in the Bronx, our first house was pretty small so we all shared rooms. Your Uncle Dave and I used to sleep in the same room with Ma. When I was about in the 3rd grade, we moved to Rockland to a much bigger house and everyone got their own room. Would you believe that for years, though, we still slept in Ma’s room. Your Uncle Dave slept next to her by the pillow and I slept along the foot of the bed. Ma used to tell us all the stories about living in Guyana — all the times they had, about family, and of course, about all the ghosts and other superstitions (we had lots of nightmares).
Ma did everything for us. Even if someone else offered to do it, she would tell them to go away and do it on her own.
On Being Set In Her Ways
Honestly, I don’t remember Ma not being old — seriously. She was always set in her ways. You don’t really get to understand those kinds of things until when you get older and look backwards. And Ma was a character.
Every Saturday, for 10 years probably, we went to the Bronx on Saturdays. You see, Ma needed to get groceries and the only place she could get them was from the Bronx. Ma would walk up and down Castle Hill with those heavy bags hanging from her skinny arms. She never asked us to help her and she never took help from anyone.
Every afternoon, Ma always sat in her recliner downstairs and watched Wheel of Fortune. You had to hear her say it to appreciate how funny it was. I never asked her if she really played along or why she liked it so much, but she had to see it. I remember the time the TV broke downstairs and how aggravated she got.
Most nights, Ma would sit with Grandma and Grandpa in their bedroom. They would chitchat and watch TV. She insisted on sitting on the ground by the foot of the bed. There were plenty of places to sit, mind you, but she always had to sit in the same place.
But the best part was her and your Grandpa. The two of them got along so well, you would have thought they were married. I wouldn’t say on anything, but she probably would have jumped to his defense over your Grandma’s! There was something special about them — I never fully got why but it was great. She wasn’t the same after he passed, either.
On Going To Heaven
Ma was always very religious. She went to church whenever she could. As she got older, she started to save up and paid for her own plot for the funeral. She minced no words about what was to happen and where she would rest.
I remember so vividly the last time I talked to Ma. I was up in Rockland just for the day, about to head off somewhere. Ma wasn’t feeling well so Grandma and I took her to the doctor. She was not breathing well at all and it was occurring more and more.
Afterwards, I remember driving back home to drop Ma off. She was too weak to walk upstairs so I carried her up to Grandma’s room, where she stayed now. I put her into your Grandpa’s chair to sit — she couldn’t sit on the floor anymore. I kissed her goodbye and gave her a hug.
As I reached the door she said, “Thank you, I love you”. I remember pulling in the door, spinning on my heel and saying to myself, “You don’t ever have to thank me, Ma”. And then I left. That was the last time I talked to Ma.
I saw her just once more before she passed, but she was already unconscious. I talked to her for 10 minutes or so. The next day, as I prepared to go back to see her, they called to let me know she had passed away. No more Ma.
Somehow, it never occurred to me that Ma wouldn’t be with us. Maybe because she was always old to us. Maybe she just seemed so well. Maybe we couldn’t bring ourselves to admit it, until it couldn’t be denied.
If there was any person ever I wished you could meet, it would be Ma. I think she waited as long as she could to see us grow up and hoped so even more so to see our own families. I’d love for her to see how what kind of men she helped raise, but, most importantly, also for you to know how special your Ma really was.