Bubbe. Nonny. Ona. Abuela. Grammy. Ya ya. Big Mama. Mee Maw. Grandmother. Bill Withers, on his album Live at Carnegie Hall, says, as an introduction to one of my favorite tunes, “People walk up to me and say ‘I loved my grandmother too.’ ” On the album, when he says that, the audience claps and cheers, because they know what’s coming—one of his signature songs, Grandma’s Hands.
I didn’t know my grandmothers and I always listen enviously when my older sisters talk about Gramma Ella’s pies or something she said, did or believed. My own granddaughter is blessed with not only two grandmothers but also two great grandmothers. As a self absorbed teenager, she probably doesn’t appreciate all the advice, virtual cheek pinching and general minding of her business that she gets—except at Christmas and on birthdays, of course.
In his song, Withers chronicles some of the things his Grandma’s hands—as extensions of her heart—used to do: “clapped in church on Sunday morning, picked me up each time I fell, soothed a local unwed mother, though they ached sometimes and swelled.”
Looking in the library’s catalog, you’ll find there are about 980 hits when you search the word “grandmother.” In fiction and nonfiction, grandmas are something special; according to Withers, “great, big ole love machines.” Because there are too many books to number, I will highlight only one exceptional book, Grand Mothers: Poems, Reminiscences, and Short Stories About the Keepers of Our Traditions. Edited by Nikki Giovanni, this book is filled with the memories, the traditions and the love of grandmothers, as recalled by many well known authors.
I love the part of the title which says grandmothers are “keepers of tradition.” In a world which often dismisses tradition as unnecessary or obsolete, our grandmothers draw us close, rub our backs and remind us of the relevance of the past. Perhaps you have some favorite books or memories you would like to share; perhaps, like Withers’ enthusiastic audience, you can say “I loved my grandmother too.” And how do we know that we were loved in return? As Toni Morrison says in this wonderful book, “What you talkin’ bout, did I love you? Girl, I stayed alive for you!” What an awesome gift.