Two nights ago as fires raged in Baltimore from the riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, my grandmother, age 96 passed away from at shock trauma. My father, who had wanted to be by her side, got into the car from Arlington, VA, but was told by police of a curfew, and so he turned around. She passed away after a few hours in the hospital.
She lived and died the way she wanted. A stubborn German-Irish American, she was fortunate to live 96 years in Baltimore with the privilege of a white woman through many changes. Every family occasion, she would recount all the different areas in the city where she lived and went to school and areas that used to be farmland now residences. I have no memories of her speaking about race or the bitter history of Baltimore. She told family stories and personal stories, always remained simple in her immediate sphere, lived in the same house for 70 plus years, went to the same church, remembered being a bank teller, counting money for her church, lived a simple life. Nonetheless, she felt changes of the world and society through her family.
|mom and me|
We are all sure that she wasn’t at ease when my father brought home my mother, an Indian woman, to marry in the early 70s. But they grew in love and I grew up seeing her tenderly connect with my Indian family at family occasions, remembering the names and stories of every 2nd and 3rd cousin of mine in India when she met them at my parent’s wedding. She would laugh joyfully to tell the stories of each personality in detail. I have memories of her calling me a savage for not wearing shoes in the house and a twisted feeling in my stomach, knowing that she used that word ignorantly, that her ideas and words could be harsh while her heart was soft. Before every holiday, I would anxiously change my outfits at least 3-5 times in worry with what comment of disapproval she would inevitably make.
I have memories of how much I loved her hands, how she would lay them on mine, her long tapering fingers and her translucent pale skin with big blue veins. I loved to sit next to her at the end of holiday dinner time as she would ask me about my life or repeat a story I had heard for years.
She was always the same, as her family shifted. Our family grew and shrank but she kept interest in everyone. She saw her adopted grandchild, my cousin Timmy, struggled with drug addiction and eventually passed away from it. She witnessed my cousin Dan marry a African American woman from East Baltimore, Natalie, and they give birth to two beautiful children. She witnessed my parents divorce after 32 years of marriage and my father remarry a younger vibrant woman, Gabi, from Venezuela. And oh, though I am embarrassed to say, she met many of my ex boyfriends from various places in the world. There has never been a family occasion that I didn’t sit near her and have that thought: Her family doesn’t look or sound anything like what she thought it would.
I watched or heard of how her first reactions to many changes put a scowl on her face. And then I watched her grow in love with people as if that scowl had never presented. She showed me how mental conditioning can be subverted by the heart.
She was a tough, “proper”, proud, and tender woman. She was able to live 96 peaceful years. So many people in our city do not live that long at the hands of violence, individual and systemic violence. She died as fires burned in the city. May she rest in peace. May our society grow into a place that is just and equitable. And may we all rest in peace.