In my grandmother’s house you will get up for a hot breakfast, place your attire for the day on the ironing board for her to press, and be dressed and ready to go before her or else.
This morning’s hot breakfast: cream of wheat, french toast, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and a banana. (I could not eat all of my breakfast this morning. God favored me and distracted her from noticing and or she will bring it up later. I am betting on the latter.) We exchanged our usual pleasantries at the start of breakfast. “As-Salaam-Alaikum. How was your sleep?” At about the 10 mark my grandmother asked, “sharlimar, do you have a suitcase?
“Yes, I have a suitcase. You have seen my suitcase. I have had the same suitcase for like ten years.” (Tone is everything in such responses. Trust my tone was ever so sweet/respectful.)
“That is what I thought. I was sure you had a suitcase. Yesterday, when you came down the escalator I knew it was you before I saw your hair. I know your legs and how you stand. (All of this is said with a smile.) But you upset my nerves so when I saw you carrying all those bags.”
“Grandma, I had two bags. My backpack and carry-on bag.” (Tone is still just right. Urgh.)
“That is not a carry on bag. That is a duffel bag. One of those bags hippies and college students carry.” (In my head are thoughts about how we learn to be prejudiced etc. but I am not about to voice any of that. I have good sense.)
This is where I took a deep breath and waited for my grandmother to deliver her message. I was sure there was a message and a directive.
“We always compliment you on your hair. Your hair is always done nicely, though I never know what color it is going to be, your hair is well done. You always have your lips painted and earrings. You got that from me and your mother.” (They do always compliment my hair, lipstick and earrings. I appreciate that they notice.)
I am still listening, waiting for my grandmother’s message coupled with her directive. That she was not giving me the business about my ugly shoes was not a surprise. At this point in my life, she has come to terms with my ugly shoe collection. She nor my mother would be caught dead in my shoes. Most days I am wearing clogs, Birkenstock, or flip-flops. My shoe game is punk. Side note – I do have a few pair of shoes when I must step up and I have my sister Kinshasa. I will be okay.
“You upset my nerves so coming down that escalator with all those bags. You are a woman. You are a lady. You are a professional woman. You carry a suitcase. You pack your things in a suitcase and check it when you get to the airport. The only bag you should be carrying is a nice purse. That purse you are carrying is big enough for whatever you will need on the flight. Have you ever seen me carry a duffel bag or your mother? No.” (Still not bold enough to say anything about respectability politics. I have good sense.)
“I did not pack my suitcase this trip because my suitcase is on the bigger side. I do not have the carry-on size. I did not need to carry a big suitcase for this trip.”
“sharlimar I do not care what size the suitcase is. You travel with a suitcase. And you will be checking that duffel bag when you go back to Baltimore. Don’t you ever think about traveling like that again. You must look like the professional woman you are. How you have your hair looking nice, lips painted, earrings and nice outfit and mess that up with all those bags? ”
I repeat , I had two bags. My backpack and carry-on bag. I am amused by my grandmother’s message about how I am to travel as a woman, more specifically an African American woman. And I am grateful she did not go in on me about my shoes. I left breakfast this morning knowing that looking respectable and well put together is serious business for my grandmother, for my African American grandmother and for me her African American granddaughter. I am not going to be out here in these streets, airports etc. not representing. Good People she took it back to my great-grandmother, Granny. I knew she was serious bringing up Granny. Enough said Grandma.
Fast-forward four hours later in TJMAXX, grandma brings up my ugly shoes. LOL!