When Mama called late Friday night, I composed myself and answered the phone - knowing that something had happened.
Mama told me that Grandmama had passed, and my world got weird for a minute.
Time stopped, and suddenly the "busyness" we often mistake for "business" seemed irrelevant. Presidential primaries, all of our noble reforms (education, health care), bailouts (financial, auto, home mortgage), and other distractions (Facebook, Twitter, and cable television) just did not seem to matter quite as much.
In that moment, all I could see were the pictures that had started flashing through my mind ...
I saw potato chips, hickory nuts, peaches, pears, blackberries, grapes, okra, butterbeans, squash, shrimp, "butt" meat, catfish stew, chocolate cake batter, red velvet cake, fruitcake, stuffing, and chili dogs.
I remembered sticking my hand into a spinning metal fan, her broom into her ignited space heater, and her fork into an electrical outlet.
I saw the "switch" tree, and remembered being relieved when it got torn down to build a carport next to her house. Then I remembered the horror of learning it had been replaced by a yardstick.
I remember the Orangeburg County bookmobile and the Mentor Branch Library in Elloree, SC.
I saw Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, Oscar The Grouch, The Count, and Gordon and Maria from Sesame Street.
I remembered Mac & Rachel Cory from the old NBC soap opera Another World.
Though dates, times, people, places, and events have been blurred by life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - I remember her words most of all.
Always delivered with a quick, efficient, humorous wit - and a knowing, patient smile - when she spoke, I listened and understood.
The wisdom earned from many lessons learned through her love, care and counsel are indelibly etched into my mind, heart, and spirit. It is no coincidence that her input positively influenced many of my life's pivotal moments ...
SalvationThe Bible counsels us to "... Guard our [hearts] (the intersection of our mind, will, and emotions), because they are the true source of life" (Proverbs 4:23, Contemporary English Version), and that " ... Out of the abundance of the heart, [the] mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45, Contemporary English Version)
At Vacation Bible School during one of my teenage Summers, the class leaders encouraged a group of teenagers to get saved at the end of the class. At the time, my decision to accept Jesus Christ was accompanied by an anxiety of not quite knowing what that meant, and my inherently stubborn nature. Grandmama asked me if I was ready to take that step, and (on wobbly knees) I told her that I was not. She did not flinch, told me to take that step when I was ready, and then told me to start getting ready. Yes, ma'am.
My grandfather (Robert L. Zeigler, whom I called "Sugar Pie") was absent during my early years, and I eventually figured out that he and Grandmama may not have gotten along very well.
He came back into the picture when I was 10, and died suddenly when I was 13. I still feel his loss today, but have come to understand that in those three years he was on a mission to help me become a man. During that period, he and I were inseparable, and every day he would put his hand on my shoulder and teach me something.
It never dawned on me then, but I see now that Grandmama took a step back to let "Sugar Pie" step up. Regardless of their marital disconnect, they acted on one accord on my behalf, and for that I am forever grateful.
When he first returned, "Sugar Pie" asked me if I wanted to ride with him to the store. I was reluctant (because children sense what adults think of each other), so I went straight to Grandmama to see what she thought. She told me to just give "Sugar Pie" a try. Yes, ma'am.
My first adult public speaking opportunity was for the Williams Grand Lodge's (Orangeburg, SC) annual banquet in 1998. When I greeted her, she asked me if I was nervous, and I admitted that I was scared of saying the wrong thing. She told me to be more afraid of missing the chance to say the right thing. Yes, ma'am.
After graduating from Clemson and Georgia Tech with engineering degrees, my concerns became much more focused on how I learned rather than what I had learned, and I found purpose in those concerns.
However, the weight of external expectations and myopic perceptions can be burdensome and overbearing. I struggled for some time following my heart's calling to be what I was, instead of catering to what I was expected to be. Grandmama told me that if I understood what I saw, then I would just have to explain it to people so that they could understand. She then reminded me that it would not always be easy, and that nothing worth having ever is. Yes, ma'am.
When I brought my then-girlfriend (now wife) Keisha home for the first time, we went to visit Grandmama. After the introduction, Grandmama whipped out her cellphone camera and told us to pose for a picture. The request caught me by surprise, but then I saw that confirming smile that told me she knew I had found my good thing. Yes, ma'am.
During our wedding, I will never forget the powerful feeling of seeing Gradmama and all of the women who loved and molded me walk down the aisle in succession - to then be followed by the woman for whom I had been molded.
After the ceremony and reception I hugged Grandmama. She told me that she liked what I told my wife (during our exchange of vows), and that she saw peace in my countenance. Yes, ma'am.
Grandmama is both the protector and center of my heart, and I had to tell you that today.
I am because of who she is.
Derrick Brown is Adelle Zeigler's oldest grandson.
He is a newlywed preparing to celebrate one year of wedded bliss to his wife Keisha.
His other passion is empowering people via methods that balance skill & will, analysis & synthesis, ideas & execution, and activity & achievement.
He is a "retired" charter school founding faculty member, governing board representative, and administrator.