Granny Meets an Angel
“I’m afraid of black people,” Granny stated, as we sat in a busy Burger King in North Augusta, South Carolina, on a warm September day in 1986.
I nearly choked on my hamburger hearing her words and looked around the room to see if anyone had heard her. “They’re just like us, Granny, just people,” I whispered.
“That’s what I know.” She nodded her head firmly. “But I’m still afraid. I heard so many stories when I was little. Scary stories.”
I didn’t know what to say. Granny had been born in 1900 in rural North Georgia and had no more than a fifth grade education. She married a handsome, half-Cherokee man recently returned from the WWI, where he survived both the battlefield and the Spanish flu that took millions of lives. They raised six children in a four-room house and lived the simple lives of farmers. I didn’t know how to address her fears and didn’t think Burger King was the place to have to the discussion. Besides I had been raised to believe people were just people and I was taken aback by her confession.
I had many wonderful memories of visits up to the mountains of Georgia as a child and waking early in that tiny house to find Granny in the kitchen. There she’d hand me a bowl and send me out to the garden to pick strawberries for breakfast. The grass was damp, green velvet and my bare feet left deep impressions in the soft, cool dirt between the neat rows as I filled my bowl. I’d run back to the house, trailing wet footprints on the porch and through the kitchen, and present my hard-earned treasure. She chuckled - she always chuckled - taking the bowl from my hand and glancing down at my wet feet, dotted with grass and dirt. And then she’d wash the berries, cut them into slices, cover them with sugar, milk and add a drop of vanilla. As many times as I tried to replicate the simple meal as an adult, it never tasted the same as it did sitting in Granny’s kitchen.
“They’re just like us, just people,” I repeated and I was sure I saw her craggy face redden with shame as she lowered her head to bite into her burger.
I had no idea how to discuss racial issues with a woman sixty-five years my elder who had grown up in a different time and a different world. Later that evening when I was home, I wondered if I had been harsh or if I could have said more or been more understanding. Granny was living the life of a displaced visitor as her children had decided she was too old to live alone on the farm anymore, and she was shuffled from one family member to the next. I determined that when I saw her the next day at Mother’s house I would broach the subject and try to be more compassionate.
Just as I made up my mind someone pounded on the door. I opened it to find Mother, her face pale like alabaster and her eyes round saucers. “Momma fell in the tub, I need you to drive us to the hospital.” Mother had terrible night vision and we had to cross the bridge into Georgia to reach the hospital.
I climbed into the car to find Granny holding a bloodstained towel against her head. “I don’t know what happened,” she said, as I pulled into traffic.
The first hospital refused to treat Granny due to insurance issues and referred us to another that took indigent cases. I ran to the parking lot, anger and frustration bubbling inside, and moved the car closer to the door. I met Mother and Granny right inside the hospital door and pushed the wheelchair out into the night.
As I pushed the chair across the concrete a twenty-something, handsome African-American man appeared at my side and took the wheelchair from my hands. I didn’t believe he was a hospital employee as he was dressed in a suit sans a tie, but when he said, “Let me help you,” I let him take over without a thought.
He angled the chair close to the car and lifted Granny gently, setting her on the front seat. “There you go, young lady,” he said, reaching inside to strap the seat belt across her lap. “You’re going to be just fine and you’ll be home in no time.” Still leaning in the car, his face just inches from Granny’s, he smiled and she smiled back. “Thank you,” was all she said.
“Don’t worry about the chair,” he said, shutting the car door. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks.” I ran around the car and jumped in the driver’s side.
“What a nice young man,” Granny sighed, as I started the car. “And he smelled so good.”
His scent lingered inside the closed environment; it was a masculine aroma with just a hint of strawberries and vanilla. I glanced at the curb as I pulled away, the man was gone and the chair was there where we had left it.
At the next hospital they stitched up Granny’s head. I sat in the room with her as she continued to talk about the man. “He was so handsome and had the prettiest smile. I hope he keeps those teeth, I’d hate for him to end up with dentures like me.” She laughed and made a clicking noise with her false teeth. Looking at her with her long, white hair out of its typical bun, her eyes bright and a smile firmly placed as she raved about the stranger, she was a young girl again.
Returning home, I gave Granny a hug. “I love you and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I love you, too and I’ll see you tomorrow if I don’t die tonight.” She laughed. Those were Granny’s last words to me.
Early the next morning there was a knock at my door and I opened it to find my brother on the stoop. As soon as I saw him, I knew. “Granny’s dead,” he said and pulled me into a hug.
I dressed quickly and drove to Mother’s house. The ambulance was pulling away as I parked. Stepping into the foyer my senses were overcome with a masculine aroma with just a hint of strawberries and vanilla and then it dawned on me - the handsome African-American man hadn’t been just a random nice guy, he’d been an angel sent to alleviate Granny’s last fear before he took her home.