Eight years ago this month, my grandmother passed away. She was the backbone of my family and an amazing, unapologetic, loving, straight-forward, maddeningly sharp-tongued, soft-hearted, funny, perceptive, hard-working, smart, self-assured, no-nonsense, contradiction of a woman. She was the strongest person I’ve ever known.
Lots of people think their grandmother was the best, but mine really was. I never called Lyris Aban Baptiste granny because I considered that too disrespectful for her stature. To me, she was always grandmother.
I miss the way she used to sing and hum to every new baby born to the family. The way she would blow raspberries on their stomach until they laughed. I miss the way she would ask for a beer, drink it quickly, and then pretend it had leaked away and ask for another. I miss how she always had food ready when her family visited, and if not, she would get up and make some. The way she would entrap her grandchildren to do household chores and then pay us with cake batter or soft drinks.
I miss how she would mock threaten any kids who were being sly or sassy by waving her cane at them. How she would blink owlishly sometimes until you announced yourself because she didn’t see so well in her last years. The stories she told about growing up in Grenada, raising kids in Trinidad and working as a domestic for a rich Chinese lady who taught her how to cook Chinese food.
Barely out of her teens, she got on a boat all alone to go be with the man that would become her husband. She grew up poor in a one bedroom shack with 10 younger brothers and sisters she had to help care for, and she had to leave school before she learned to read and write to do it. She was told there was no point to educating a girl that would only get pregnant anyway, and her eldest brother took her place in school. But by the time she left this world, she had taught herself to read and write, was the secretary of the national chapter of the Mother’s Union of the Anglican Church, the secretary of her Village Council and had helped build her house with her own two hands while pregnant.
Her children and grandchildren included teachers, nurses, public servants, artists, lawyers, writers, musicians and two generations of port workers, male and female. She educated her children in a time when you paid for that education yourself and she never tired of preaching the importance of God and ‘studying your book’. She saved more people from the sad twists and turns of life by offering them shelter and a chance to get on their own two feet than any charitable organisation. She stood by her word, no matter what. And she loved, loved, loved, her family.
But my best memories are the times we spent together. The time she pretended her cane was stuck in ‘reverse’ while standing in front of the television and blocking her children and grandchildren from watching a movie. The squeals of ‘Granny! Move!’ while she shook her cane and muttered in pretend frustration, ‘But how this thing wouldn’t go into drive at all?’ The laughter when she got it into drive and backed up against the screen even more.
The time we were playing cricket in the yard, and she came outside and we talked her into batting and then regretted it because no matter who bowled to her, she hit it for six every time and nobody could get her out.
Or the time she came out while I was watching ‘The Matrix’ on television and sat down and watched the entire thing with me. This woman born before electricity came to the poor of Grenada. This woman who rationed throughout World War II and never forgot the lessons of keeping enough food in the house in case of political upheaval. This woman who lived through the arrival of telephones in Trinidad, all the way to the installing of a computer in her house that she frequently called a ‘small TV’. She watched Neo gain his powers in a strange world created by ‘camera tricks’ as she called it and asked very few questions, so engrossed was she.
At the end of The Matrix, she said, ‘I like that. That was good.’ And then we went to bed, she to hers and I to mine.
Sleep well, grandmother. It really was good.