This year will make 14 years since my grandmother died. Darlean Carter was the strongest woman I had ever met and yet to this day, I can only think of one thing she could have done differently. She suffered with the disease that many in our country suffered with…heart disease. Her arteries were clogged and instead of undergoing surgery, she opted to change her diet and way of thinking. How things would have been different if she would have chosen surgery, we will never know. What I do know is that heart disease claimed the life of a strong, outspoken and spiritually grounded woman. And on this day, as we support the efforts of heart disease research and outreach by wearing the color red, I thought it best to share an article on Helium that I wrote on my memories of my dear sweet Grandma Darlean.
Her life will always be a treasure!
I used to think that my Grandma Darlean was the meanest woman that ever lived. All she ever did was fuss at me. “Sherice, clean that up!” “Sit up straight!” I could never do anything right. I just knew that my parents were trying to punish me and were laughing their heads off as they pulled out of the driveway, leaving me at her house every day after school and during the summer.
Grandma Darlean never let me do anything I wanted. Because I was the youngest granddaughter at the time, she would tell me how spoiled I was and that I shouldn’t worry my parents. It was her impression that I should stay silent and out of the way. When she watched me at my parents house and I asked if I could go out and play, she would never let me. I never really felt free with her. I tried to do what she asked and yet when I didn’t, it just made me want to go home more. I thought she was the most infuriating, suffocating woman.
That is, until I discovered the kitchen. My grandmother was the not greatest cook. God rest her soul, she couldn’t even make cornbread, although her baked potatoes and cauliflower were the best tasting ever, which would go down so well with the dishes that my mother sent to hold me over until I got home. Even though she was unable to cook well, Grandma did like watching cooking shows, something that we could agree to watch together. We watched Yan Can Cook and The Urban Peasant on the Public Broadcasting channel every day. We oohed and ahhed over gourmet veggies and chicken, and all sorts of meats that the chefs created. And in that time, we bonded. We really enjoyed watching the finished product.
As an inquisitive child who never really liked to sit, I got the bright idea of turning our tv time into our time together in the kitchen. It started with a salad. She helped me cut the veggies and together we mixed them in with the lettuce and the dressing. All the while, Grandma Darlean was cleaning behind my mess and when I was finally done making one out of the salad, we proudly we ate it with baked potatoes.
So the kitchen became our place. She began to tell me the stories of our history, people that I would never meet became alive again in that kitchen. We talked about her times working in the Chrysler plant while the men were at war and how it felt to have to find another job when they came back. As I learned my history, I experimented with spaghetti, fried chicken, eggs and ice cream sundaes. We also cleaned her jewelry in the kitchen, where as we cleaned she pointed out what she received from working as a maid in rich White and Jewish homes in Detroit. She gave me a clear picture of what it was like to hold her children tight as they laid on the floor during the race riots.
While I didn’t always get along with my grandmother, she taught me how to conduct myself as a lady and how to provide for a familywhich was a lot of lessons that I treasure and try to share with the young girls and boys that come to the church. I remember all of the lessons fondly even the ones that I hate the mostcleaning up after myself as I prepared the meal. “You always want to clean up the mess,” Grandma Darlean would tell me. “That way you don’t have a whole lot to clean at the end.”
My childhood is chock full of memories from Grandma Darlean. Her lessons are irreplaceable and have followed me throughout my entire life. She taught me so many things, including how to die with grace. As she neared the end of her life, she felt her mortality coming to an end and she told me things that she wanted to know. She began to write down her history and told me what she wanted everyone to have when she left this life. I told her that I couldn’t do what she wanted and how I didn’t want her to die. “One day, I won’t be here, but I don’t want you to cry,” she told me. “You have to remember to be strong for the ones who are weak and always to conduct yourself as a lady.”
She spoke those words to me 11 years ago and I have treasured them the entire time. And though I didn’t want to admit it at the time, Grandma Darlean was right about everything. People who come into our lives don’t always act the way we want them to and don’t always say what we want them to say. But if we get past our wants and desires and look into the spirit of that person, the lessons they can teach us appear like the blessings that they truly are.