Sunday, July 23, 2006

My Grandparents

These two photos are of my maternal grandparents, Matthew Levi Emanuel (after whom I got my middle name) and Teola Prior Emanuel. Both came from fairly affluent African American families in northern Georgia.

He was a man who loved to walk, but he had a stroke in the late 1950s. After the stroke he would often become disoriented and would wander into busy streets in East Liberty, which was, perhaps, five miles from where we lived. My mother had her hands full with two babies, my older brother and me, and had been warned by an officer, who repeatedly brought my grandfather home, that if he got struck by a car and killed it will be on her conscience for not keeping him at home.

The officer did not know how strong-willed my Grandfather was (I think I picked up some of his traits in that regard). He would wait until my mother was bathing me to grab his cane and sneak out of the house for his walks – the love of long walks is something else I inherited from him.

In an attempt to keep him from escaping, my mother hid his cane in the bathroom while she had me in the tub. This irritated the man to no end. My mother was not one to disobey her father, who had be a stern disciplinarian when she was growing up, so it must have been difficult for her to defy him when he demanded his cane. She locked herself, the cane, and me in the bathroom and held a shouting match with him behind the bathroom door.

Eventually the family agreed that he had to be institutionalized for his own safety, but nobody felt good about this “solution.” The institution was a long distance from the city, making it difficult for the family to visit him once he was there. Although this was the common practice at that time, the family has since regretted that decision. Not much later he contracted pneumonia and died, without family members at his bedside, in 1958. My grandfather loved his freedom, was accustomed to being independent and had a strong will. My mother always regretted the lonely and confined circumstances under which he died.

My grandmother was an inspiration in my life until she died of a heart attack in 1976. She used to call me “the senator” in order to encourage my political aspirations since I was ten years old. I always felt that she never lost faith in me, even during times when I had doubts about myself. She was, to me, the clearest role model of unconditional love and infinite patience. She was a devout Christian. The Bible always had a prominent place in her home.

My grandparents helped my parents to buy their first home just before I was born. With a growing family they wanted to make sure that we had space to spread out and a large yard to play in. The family moved from the small row house to a much larger single family unit at 253 Travella Boulevard, near the Lincoln Park area. My grandmother eventually moved into a house on Upland Street, which was near Homewood. This meant that we were still close enough for frequent visits. Upland Street is no more than three miles from Travella Boulevard.

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