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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Loving Someone You Haven't Known

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

Lao Tzu

My paternal grandmother came to this country as a young woman from Jamaica. In those days, you had to have a sponsor, someone who would house and feed you until you found employment. My grandfather saw a picture of my grandmother at a friend’s house, found out that she was single and “sent” for her. He was her sponsor. She met him and thought she could make a life with him. I am physically shaped like her (close to the ground) and I understand through stories that I have a lot of her spunk. As a small woman, she was not easily intimidated by anyone or anything. She was opinionated and loved her son with everything she had. My grandfather was a cook and my grandmother did day’s work (housekeeper), but somehow they figured out how to send their only child to college. He is a Lincoln University alum.

I have heard a few stories about my grandmother, mostly from my dad. My dad was in love with a lady he met when he was in college. She didn’t attend his school, but enjoyed coming to the school dances. Her name was Jessie and remained the lifelong love of his life. My grandmother didn’t like her – thought she was a round the way girl…or as Jamaican mom are notorious for, not thinking anyone was good enough for her son. Out of respect to his mom, he didn’t marry Jessie.

When my mom and dad got together, it was inevitable that they would marry. I was on the way so in those days, men and women did the honorable thing and married before unexpected babies showed up. My dad joined a ready-made family. Going from a single man to a new husband, stepfather to 2 teenage sons and having a new baby on the way was quite a load. He still kept careful watch over his mom who lived close by. I imagine that my grandmother noticed the pressure my dad was under…so she may have been reluctant to mention the abnormalities she was noticing in her body. By the time she mentioned it, it was past the stage where anything could be done. She died a month after I was born from breast cancer.

When my husband proposed to me, I was in graduate school. My dad was concerned that I would be too distracted to finish my degree. This was so important to him because in Jamaican families, there is an unspoken expectation that each generation will do better than the previous one. My dad completed his bachelor’s degree so it was fully expected that my sister and I would get a master’s degree - which we did. We were headed to my sister’s college graduation when I had to tell my dad that I was expecting. Things didn’t go as planned that day and I wanted to tell him before we got to my mom so I had to tell him in the car. His exact response was “Holy Cow!” I promised him that I would finish on time. After the shock, he was delighted with the idea of having a grandchild…and I did finish on time.

When my oldest was 9 months old, we moved to Atlanta so my guys had a long distance relationship with their grandparents. We visited as much as possible and it was always a delight to see each other. My dad suffered a debilitating stroke when my oldest was 6 years old. He lived two more years and then succumbed to prostate cancer. My sons have pictures of them with their grandfather, but it is hard to remember their first hand experiences. My dad left a little money which I invested to make sure each of my sons had enough money to buy a laptop before going off to college. We have a few of my dad's things, watches, books, VHS movies, pictures and a special briefcase. We call it the “Grampie briefcase.” We keep all of our important papers in it. It’s symbolically a safe place – as if he is still watching over and protecting us.

Anyone who knew my dad and knows my sons, says that he would be so proud of them. Whenever I can interject something that Grampie would say or think about the situation, I try to. They are the four men I love the most in this world. I just wish they had more time together. But just like I have come to love my Grandmother through stories from my dad, my sons have come to love their grandfather through my recollections. If you are wondering if it is possible to love someone you barely know, know that you can. I so value the love I received from my dad and from my grandmother through my has given me the courage and strength I needed to raise my family. Thank you!

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