From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Walking to Wisdom

Grammy woke me with unfortunate news. Her speedometer was broken, and she needed to take the car to a nearby repair shop—understandable. She wanted me to accompany her—unforgivable. It meant the ruin of a precious carefree summer day. As I hurried to get ready I thought, No fourteen-year-old should be subjected to such cruel and unsuspecting punishment. I knew that resistance was futile, and my only hope was for a speedy on-site repair so I could resume my sleep.

While Grammy inched along New Orleans’ streets, she played her favorite oldies on the AM radio dial. Sweat beaded my body in the sauna of the car. No one spoke. At the shop, Grammy spoke to a mechanic while I slouched at the entrance, attempting to neutralize my irritation.

Everything about this place was filthy, most notably the stench of toxic liquids and a handful of greasy mechanics. The atmosphere was more akin to demolition than repair. More good news: the car would not be ready until tomorrow so we would have to rely on public transportation to return home. My day was deteriorating by the minute.

We made our way to the nearest bus stop. The area was void of shade. Once a mosquito entourage flew our way it was impossible to remain still. My intuition told me that the longer we wait for a bus to arrive, the longer it will take for a bus to arrive. Minutes later, Grammy announced, “Let’s walk home.”

It was roughly a three-mile journey, up a one-way road, back home. En route were a handful of bus stops at various intervals, meaning that if a bus appeared and we were, by chance, near a bus stop, we could hop onboard. I didn’t have much hope.

In typical teenage fashion, all of my upsetting thoughts were directed inward. How could Grammy sucker me into this? Why had she decided to go so early? As slow as she drives, surely she didn’t need a functioning speedometer in the first place. She could have arranged for someone to give us a ride home. Why is it so hot, why is Grammy walking so slow?

I was drenched in sweat after five minutes of walking. I’d made a conscious effort to slow the pace of my stride to walk side-by-side with Grammy. A few cars passed, and I noticed some passengers stared. What a pathetic scene, I thought, a young black male in the prime of his teenage years slow-trotting with his Grandmother along a road to nowhere. Embarrassed, I looked down and examined each step I took. The heat, the sweat and my irritation grew. There was complete silence between the two of us.

As we continued, a brief conversation started. She asked what I was doing later that day. I asked what she was cooking for dinner. I told her a funny story about a friend and we both laughed. Other insignificant conversations came about and soon I became engrossed in the simple uniqueness of the moment. Each summer I’d stay at Grammy’s house, and each year I’d spend less time with her and more time eating, sleeping and playing with my friends, but now we were together again, enduring the same circumstances.

Frequently I would turn my head, take a close look at Grammy and detail her entire profile. I gulped. Despite my private concern for her, she held steadfast through the heat and journey. The sun shined bright on her, illuminating the course of her life. I saw the lady born in New Orleans, 1931, in the heart of poverty and the height of Jim Crow laws. Undoubtedly the effects of the Great Depression reverberated in the city through her childhood. There were times she reminisced about the advent of television, the civil rights movement, the assassination of international and national leaders, wars, hurricanes, man’s first step on the moon, and the changing phases of music and dress style. At home she endured to keep the family and house in one piece, and had lived long enough to tell many tales of birth, coming of age and death.

I remembered the times I’d seen her laugh and smile and the times I’d seen her break down and cry. Every step of the way, I could remember Grammy being there, and now, walking with her, each step she took reminded me of an important moment she had shared. Through all the events and circumstances that formed her life, she retained her unmistakable vitality and brightness and a rich inner beauty that was priceless.

By the time we neared home, I had completely lost touch of the heat, my irritation and selfish shame. The moment had been wholly transformed into something of unequaled profoundness. The struggle against the adverse conditions was now a promenade down memory lane and back home, and Grammy appeared no more exhausted than I. Our chitchat continued as I walked with great pride and joy with Grammy by my side.

Miiky Cola

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