My family knows me by my first name, but to friends and the general public I am
known as Elizabeth Burr, which is also my grandmother’s name. My grandmother had a massive stroke, and after three days in intensive care, she passed away on December 11th.
I can’t describe how much my heart broke when I found out she was ill. It was hard to believe at first, because my grandmother was a very strong woman who seemingly had nine lives. She’s been shot in the arm at close range, she’s had four of her houses burn down (the last one almost took her life), she’s survived breast cancer, she’s had both knees and a hip replaced (all over the age of 65). Yet and still, as recent as this summer she was on her tractor plowing the soil on one of her farms. It’s like nothing could stop her.
Except high blood pressure.
My grandma used to joke and say, “if I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” LOL. She died at the ripe old age of 85 (or so we think–grandma rarely gave anyone a straight answer about what year she was born. A lady never reveals her true age!).
My grandma was special to me because she often acted as my surrogate parent. Growing up in a single parent household, I had to stay with my grandparents every summer because my mom couldn’t afford childcare when school was out of session. A few times I lived with my grandparents for the entire school year.
I was very close to my grandmother. We always had adventures and special things that we did together. Road trips, garage sales, shopping, cooking, baking, gardening, farming, fishing–we always had a good time together. Our recent past time involved cooking chitlins together for the holidays. I would clean them *all* day long, we would cook them all night long, and by 3 am, they were ready. She and I would dine as soon as they were done because all of our hard labor in the kitchen deserved (somewhat) instant gratification.
Looking back, I realize that my grandmother’s influence on my life is paramount. She was staunchly independent–she could do anything she put her mind to. She would listen to all the advice in the world, but when she had her mind set on something she was going to make it happen in whatever way seemed most logical to her. She was well educated, having both her bachelor’s and master’s degree, which strikes me as even more impressive given the time in which she grew up. I realize now that her career as a teacher and her educational background are what influenced me most in my own educational goals.
My grandmother had a very sassy side to her as well; she had the funniest sly remarks and jokes. Don’t get me wrong–she was always graceful and kind to everyone (sometimes too nice). She just had the best retorts of anyone I’ve ever known.
Another significant example my grandmother set for me was her love for my grandfather. She loved him. No matter what he did, no matter where he went, she loved him and would do anything for him. He felt the same about her. My grandfather never finished third grade, but my grandmother was by
his side so much so that people could never tell he was illiterate. I
remember she would fill out his paperwork for his truckdriving job, and
when he opted to become a truckdriving instructor at a local college,
she had to brief him on what his faculty application said lol. Today, they rest in peace together.
My grandmother never wanted much. She just wanted her space (hence the farms), her animals, and her family. My grandmother had the biggest heart. She always made sure she had extra bedrooms for anybody who may need to drop by, or if a grandchild or cousin or nephew needed somewhere to stay. She may have owned over 30 horses, but each horse had their own pet name and she treated them like they were her lap dogs. The same went for her cows, pigs, emus, ostriches, chickens, geese, goats, pheasants, et al. Every animal had a name, a voice and a story.
My grandparents didn’t believe in racism as a crutch. True, they were Black and grew up in segregation (random fact: my grandma used to pick cotton for a living when she was young). Like many Blacks of their time, White people got under their skin. But I believe they chose to make their home in New Mexico largely because there was somewhat less direct racism that occurred there (as opposed to Texas, where my grandfather is from). They could have a farm, and even if they didn’t farm the land, they had their own space to be at peace. They always did their own thing, and didn’t have a problem with being the only Black farmers they knew, or the only Black family in the town they resided.
My biggest takeaway from both of them is that I should never feel limited by my surroundings or circumstances. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing, and do what makes you happy. My grandparents were always thankful for what they had, but they never stopped dreaming. Be proud of who you are and what you have, but never stop dreaming for bigger and better.