HM
Granny’s HopeDerrick_Keisha

by Keisha Derrick
 




In the summer of 2013, I went home to Antigua for the first time because my grandfather died, and the whole island crawled into my life to watch the funeral unfold. By the time the flag was folded, and the gravediggers had been paid, it was mid-July. The entire trip I spent with my grandfather’s widow, mourning as quietly as I could, avoiding the newspapers and anything too serious. When my grandmother insisted I stay with her for my last two days, I considered it my granddaughterly duty to oblige her. As the peacekeeper of the family, I get tossed between households a lot. So I packed. I spent my last two days of my month-long visit with my grandmother, crawling along the emerald hills and scrambling up the rocky peaks in her tiny Jeep.

My grandmother was always a foreign thing to me. She was dark leather, strong and proud, but hard and mean. She put lit matchsticks in my hair (she claimed this cured hiccups), left me in the sun (to darken me up), forgot me in my car seat on the roof of the car (an accident), and put me on Slim-Fast when I was six (. . . yeah). I knew full well how she felt about white people, and fat people, and politicians, and lazy people, and people who didn’t go to church. I knew she was the first black female bank manager in the Caribbean, thank you very much. I called her Granny Little; I sent her macaroni art and school pictures; but I didn’t really know her. Every visit would end with her stuffing me into a white cotton dress, harnessing my hair into a ponytail so tight it could be considered an elective surgery, and cramming me into a mould labelled “white granddaughter” where she left me to set.

When she picked me up, we didn’t go back to her little concrete house. She drove around the island, showing me everything she’d never had the chance to. She showed me the plantation where she was born, the plantations where her brothers were born, the school she went to, the school she sent her children to, the house where my grandfather grew up, the bar where my grandfather dropped dead; she showed me who she was, all in relation to the bone-white sand and the little tin shacks of home. She brought me to the abandoned sugar factory and held her breath as I slithered up the rusted ladder to climb into the boiler and poke my head above the rim; she pursed her lips at my bare feet pounding the wet grass on the hill above Half Moon Bay and held her head in her hands as I pulled the cassie thorns out of my legs. But she also smiled when I told her about my job, she giggled when she realized we loved the exact same foods, and I thought she might just roll over and die laughing when I insisted on ushering the animals out of the road, lifting the goats to kiss them on their little goat noses and getting nothing but head-butts for my trouble.

That night, sitting on her veranda under the cool moon, sugar-apple branches whistling in the breeze, she and her twin sister told me their story. “Daddy was a manager for the sugar plantations,” she said, “so we lived in the big houses while the owners were gone. We moved so many times all of us were born on different plantations, except me and Lul. Daddy rode into the fields every morning after the stable boy brought a horse up to the house, and he’d stay out all day, keeping an eye on the fields and the machines. Slave days were over but sugar days weren’t. He’d come home with the moon, sticky with cane juice and sun.” She told me stories of her brothers, about the time Uncle Shelley stopped his car in town and a rat crawled up his pant leg through the hole under the pedals. She told me about making the bed around my grandfather when she worked the early shift, and coming home to him still asleep. My grandfather and his narrative, left untold under ashy soil and weepy black stone, trickled from her lips. She’d buried all her brothers and her parents and her husband and her dreams, but she was still moving, dragging the burden of their memories and their lives forward. The way her voice twisted around the memories of her parents and her brothers, her whispers so soft and elegant, poised and proud even in her grief: the burden was heavy but she wasn’t putting it down yet.

Her sister Lucinda was the complete opposite, bright and bustling and loud. She told me of the way her brothers would run into the bush at night and come back with pillowcases full of crabs, which they kept in a claw-footed tub in the yard. After they’d been fed for a few days and cleaned, the family would have crabmeat for supper. She told me of her grandfather, who’d give her a penny if she didn’t wince when he pinched her cheek; of her mother, a woman with a resolve made of granite; of chewing cane as toothpaste; of being crowned Carnival Queen 1963—each story punctuated with a bursting, throaty howl. She told me of how rich she’d felt as a girl, having a stable boy, and a maid, and a cook at one house. She laughed when she said, “They all lived in what we called the nigger-houses,” and when I clicked my tongue she stopped. “What? We all niggers here, aren’t we?” she said dismissively. Granny just smiled at her, but when she left said, “Let me hear that word out of your mouth and I’ll cut out your tongue and feed it to you.” I went to bed to the sound of crickets and bullfrogs chasing each other under the endless inky sky and the sound of rain on the galvanized tin, and I slept. For the first time in my life, I had a home and a story and a name; and they mattered.

I see now that I was not raised to quietly ignore my aches based on others’ perception of me, white like lace and just as ragged. I don’t need to assert the validity of my existence. I don’t need to stammer out my origins and find clear-cut reasons for why I feel so empty. I don’t need to hunt for a name in the spaces between paragraphs in slave narratives or scrape my knees to the bone begging for a reason to feel how I feel, searching for a story to justify me. Because I know now, and that’s good enough.
 

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