one of these things reminds me of another

I wrote this a few years ago for a speech class, I started crying about halfway through... As I'm watching MJ's service, I'm crying for a lot of reasons, most of which are not on the t.v. screen. I think about my sisters, and how we all have to die. I think about everyone I know and how we all have to die. How some of us will out live the others and have to make these speeches for our friends and families. I am thinking about how ugly people can be in life, and in death become so beautiful yet again. That's what happened for me when my grandmother died.

Atiya Jones
Public Speaking
Speech #1
January 29, 2007
“In Loving (Regained) Memory”

I did not cry the day my grandmother died. That wouldn’t come until later.

Who she was by the time my mother announced the news to me was not the women I knew as a child- The woman who picked me up from the school bus, took me to play illegal “numbers” (because I was good luck, or so she thought) and cooked massive meals on and off the holidays. I missed her, and to me she had died years ago.

The woman we were cremating would arrive at my house at ungodly hours to ask my mother for money. She made my mother upset whenever she showed up. The air was thick with anxiety whenever our doorbell rang. I would often ask my mother why she didn’t just write Amma off; she only caused us pain and sadness. She had transformed her life into something no one ever wanted to talk about with me. She was a mystery that I was too young to understand how to solve.

My family had always sheltered me from the various bouts of information they received about her through locals, or sometimes phone calls from the police. I referred to the photographs that hung on my walls to piece together how she became Amma –this is what we called her. She was alleged to have once owned six restaurants. When her birthday came, she threw a party at each one –wearing lavish evening gowns for the occasions and only serving top of line meals to top of the line people.

In the 70s, much like a lot of people at the time, I hear she began using cocaine.
She knew “loan-sharks,” she dated drug dealers and lived a fast life. She lived this fast life until the day she died. When she slept, she looked as though she were awake. Her head propped up on folded hands and her eyes slightly ajar. Amma never missed a beat.
Over the years, she faded away. She moved out of our house, housing a variety of our estranged family members wherever she went. Thanksgiving dinners faded, Christmas dinners faded and drug use increased.

But this is not about the tragedy that her life became. Actually, this is about her funeral.
It was sunny that day. I can’t remember the exact date; I guess I, subconsciously, chose not to make a note of it. The funeral home was beautiful. When I entered the room, I’m not sure what I was expecting to see. I knew there would be no body, but I was still nervous. I wondered who would come, which of her friends were still alive, and which of my terrible, disconnected family members would show face.

I was relaxed as people came and went. When it came time to “say a few words,” there may have been 10 people in the room. My uncle couldn’t make it, one of my sisters just didn’t want to come; my aunt and cousin never showed up. And so much for her friends; always knowing where to find her when they were down and out, but they didn’t get the news when she passed?

The few people that spoke in her honor chose not to dwell on the latter parts of her life. They recollected times of need when Ruthie came through for them, sheltered, fed them, and made her home their own. For the first time in years, I remembered when I knew my grandmother- Days when I returned from school to lay her money out on the floor and count it, take trips with her to the fish market, watching Matlock, and admiring a woman who helped so many people, but could never help herself.

What she left behind wasn’t much. There was no money, cars, houses, or any of the luxuries people sometimes inherit during times like these. There was one plus- I haven’t seen troubled relatives in years; most of that stress passed on when she did. Now, when I look back to the time we spent in that funeral parlor, I see the people who cared about her most. In the front row sat my mother, two of my three sisters and myself –all mourning a great woman, whom we forgot we had known. When I stood up to say something in her memory, even I was shocked. I couldn’t find many words in between my tear-soaked stutters, but I found as many as I needed to thank everyone for coming and for reminding me of my Amma. She had left each of us with a story to tell and the strength to tell it. She was a true heroine, and at some point, I had loved her.

I suppose I was raised with a very unconventional grandmother by my side- She did teach me a few things though: Pepsi over Coca-Cola, orange juice is the secret ingredient in carrot salad, the Bacardi-Bat means a good rum, and some people actually love Newport cigarettes.

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