Three significant memories of my grandfather have stayed with me. In the summer, when he would use his tractor trailer to cut the grass in our yard, he would sit me in front of him and help me steer the tractor, around what to me at the same time was a huge backyard. I loved helping in the yard and spending time with him; my face full with smiles and laughter. We also had a small vegetable garden in the back of the house, where we grew tomatoes, greens and other vegetables. My grandfather would cut me a tomato in half, pour a little salt on it, and hand it to me, and I devoured the bright red tomatoes’ sweetness and saltiness. During his rare downtime when he wasn’t working on cars or tending to the yard, we watched The Price is Right on Sunday mornings, with him cracking open walnuts, and us both savoring the delicious nutty flavor.
These memories remind me of my southern heritage. See, my grandfather was born and raised in Mississippi, and had to withdraw from school in the sixth grade to work on the farm. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much of the southern lifestyle he brought with him to Indianapolis, and how it has influenced me. Traveling to New Orleans last year, along with reading Isabel Wilkerson’s magnum opus, The Warmth of Other Suns, awakened this longing in me to rediscover my southern roots. I felt at home there; I loved the slower pace of life, the ubiquitous shotgun houses (I didn’t know those type of homes were called that; my great-grandma raised eight children in a four room shotgun house), the southern hospitality, and of course the food.
I feel like many strands of my life are all connected to this deep southern place in my heart. As I age, I feel this intense need to be surrounded by my people; to live in a black neighborhood again. I miss it so much; kids running around, cars blasting music in the summer time, the corner stores. I attended the Bud Billekin Parade for the first time last year, and I just really treasured being in the presence of so many Black people; I felt that instead of walking back to the green line to travel to The Loop, that I should just be walking around the corner into my Bronzeville apartment.
I truly thank my grandparents for instilling in me a love for my people; when they would travel in their younger years, they always made it a point to drive around in Black neighborhoods, to see their people. When I imagine my life ten years from now, I see a southern style home with both a front and back porch, a vegetable garden in back, and lemon trees, in a black neighborhood….