Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ok People

Here I am, much recovered (for me at least) and glad to be back.

I really have missed you, and wish I could be clearer about how the whole month of January managed to pass without me even really noticing, but I figure let's just move on from where we are: sound good?

My Nana's 1st anniversary was on Monday. It was a hard day, but significantly easier than it could of been because of a few little ironies that helped me & my family cope with the day.

During the 3 years of my blog that Nana was alive, I ranted more than once about her, so I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that she had very strong opinions on a lot of things, and was never quiet about sharing them with the world in general. She was a lot of fabulous and wonderful things: caring, generous, lovable, sweet, powerful, amazing.

She was also casually racist.

When I say 'casually' racist, I mean that, for her, it wasn't an active intense dislike or hatred of people who were different, particularly black people... it was more just a sense of "these people are different. That is fact. You cannot convince me it is not fact" and the attitude and actions that would come about because of that belief.

It was something that she and I argued about - a lot - and a part of her that I found cruel and ignorant, but it was a part of her. A lot of it was generational - she still felt perfectly comfortable using the N word (although was eventually convinced by us that it was inappropriate in public, thank the lord), would sometimes say things like "call a spade a spade," and would sometimes refer to desegregation & the civil rights movement as "the time when those people went crazy."
It was from her that I learned all of the racial slurs that I would eventually hear in history classes, and that's something I'm not particularly proud of. I know that there were generational contributions to our different value systems as far as prejudice went, but Nana's stubbornness cannot be discounted as a contributing factor. Yes: she was born in 1923, and grew up in a largely white, largely segregated community in Massachusetts that would eventually become a city that has one of the largest immigrant populations in New England. She was a schoolteacher in the 50s and 60s and lived through the forced busing desegregation scandals in Boston in the early 1970s. We live next door to a private school that went from all white to probably 75% minority over the course of her lifetime. In her mind, the changes that occurred in her classrooms over the years - the falling standards, the growing lack of respect for teachers and authority figures, the lack of parental involvement and caring - correlated directly to the increase in minority students & families. I don't agree, and I know that even she didn't think it was the sole contributing factor to why (in her words) "teaching now is not teaching, it's zoo keeping. I didn't go to school to become a zoo keeper."

On a case by case basis, my grandmother was completely capable of looking past skin color (and even sexual orientation, which for her was an even bigger button to push), and see that individual people were great people: When my youngest sister, whose mother is Filipino and who has (you may have noticed) much darker skin than any of us, was first brought home, my Nana said "black is black" when my father tried to explain that she was Filipino. But that didn't stop her from loving SisterK and from claiming her as her granddaughter (even though she, technically, was not). She had black friends and colleagues who mourned her loss just as much as her white friends and colleagues. She continued to talk about my best friend from elementary school (who was Malaysian) as "the sweetest girl I ever taught" and kept in contact with her family all these years later.

But even though she was able to look past race if she had to, the fact that it was something to "look past" was always there... you were black, white, Asian, Latino, and to her, that meant you were different. Until you proved otherwise. Anyways, I could go on and on about all of the reasons I think she was racist, or the reasons I don't think she really cared that I considered her racist, but suffice it to say that she was.

Which is why when I saw that her anniversary would be falling on Martin Luther King Jr Day this year, it helped to lift my spirits a little bit. The delicious irony of remembering Nana on a day when we're also remembering - when the whole country is celebrating - one of the most influential and charismatic leaders of the Civil Rights movement was just enough for me to not make that day into the hardest day we've had in a year. It was difficult - it was always going to be a shit day, and it wasn't as if I was running around singing and painting rainbows - but it wasn't a huge pit of awful that I fell into either. I think we all tried to sort of actively ignore the date as much as possible, but even as I'm writing this, I still get a little giggle out of how much Nana would've hated the fact that her day was MLK day. Just to really drive this home, I'm going to admit to something that is awful and embarrassing and just hateful all around... Nana used to call MLK "Martin Lucifer Koon" which is speech straight out of a Klan rally if I ever heard it and still makes me shudder to think of it.

Bearing that in mind, and bearing in mind that the very next day we were able to swear in our first African American president, and I hope you can see why this anniversary wasn't as hard as it could've been. And it's like a little inside joke that fate gave us, just enough of a twist to take the edge off of the worst of the grief.

I still miss her, and thought of her as I watched our new president make his wonderful speech without any dismissive comments from the peanut gallery. I think of her most days, when Lil Girl is doing something adorable and I want to call her to come down and see; when I've been sick in bed for three weeks, I want to shoot the TV it's boring me so much, and there's nobody to play cribbage with. When we leave the house and I still automatically look up at her porch to see if she's in the window. When the buyers were traipsing through the house talking about which walls they'd knock down and how there'll be classrooms here and there. When I look at mom and see how fresh the grief still is in her eyes; or when I purposefully don't go to the hospital (even though I really should have) because I just couldn't face going back there right now, during the time that Nana was there and so sick: I couldn't do it to me and I couldn't do that to my mom. It's still hard, every day to know that she's not coming back. But it's getting easier, a little. And the day itself had just enough grace to see us through. And for that I'm thankful.

I'm off to do something irresponsible and just for me today - instead of packing or planning or cleaning or any of the millions of things I should be doing: checking e-mails or getting through my google reader; cleaning out my closet or under my bed; sorting through the mail that's been sitting here since Christmas. I'm going to let it all go for one more day, and just do something I want to do (that I am up for) --- I'm going to scrap JUST because I want to. Not because I should (even though I should) and not because there are birthdays that need to be scrapped for. I'm going to do it for fun. Because I need a little bit of fun today.

So that's where I'll be... amidst stickers and patterned papers for the remainder of my day. I hope you all are able to do something carefree today too.

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