Tomorrow is Nanny's birthday, and were she still alive, she'd be turning 96. I miss her. At times, my memories of her slip into the background, but without fail and like the tides, they always flow back into the fore. I am thankful for that, but I recognize that keeping her with me does take some effort, and it should. Time heals, assuages. It covers naturally, like sand dunes that build up imperceptibly by day but noticeably over years. Without awareness and thought, what was once a flat land is suddenly a towering peak- what was underneath? Can it be reclaimed? Remembered? Found?
I keep Nanny with me in the way one must when someone or something is, and should remain, both important and honored. I don't want to lose any bit of her. My life and the lives of my children would be lessened without her guiding hand.
Nanny surfaced in my mind earlier while I was at the movies. Tom and I took the kids and one of Jack's friends to see Hidden Figures, a film about, literally, hidden women. Three incredible Black women who positively altered our country's trajectory but were, nonetheless, rendered voiceless, nameless, influenceless, until now.
How did my education overlook these women? How did my education overlook so many things that aren't part of "the" American narrative? That lovely, jovial narrative in which white settlers gave peaceful Thanks with native Americans (rather than the truth which involves a whole lot of slaughter and intolerance) and difference was tolerated rather than condemned as it had been when religious settlers fled England because of religious persecution.
In truth, white Americans slaughtered the native ones and then proceeded to enslave Africans and racialize skin color. And forever subjugate women. And we continue to do all this but now also want to build a wall and stop people at borders.
The racist and male fears (not always simultaneous, but sometimes) behind these ugly actions are why the figures in today's film/the real history were largely hidden and likely why my Nanny never boasted an outward voice as loud as I think her inner one may have been. Why I've spent my life unlearning a lot of what is expected of me as both southern and women -and, also, as Southern Woman- and why I have worked so emphatically, conscientiously, continuously to do so, despite the negative feedback I've sometimes received.
I thought about this prior to Christmas when the boys and I decided to craft books for each set of grandparents. Each child would write a Top 10 list of things I like to do with you and also write a story or essay about one or more of those memories.
Lists were easy, stories for the grandfathers were easy. But the grandmother-specific tasks were harder: was there one thing? Some things? A specific thing that stood out? Not really. This vexed me for days and then I realized: It's because we are always here. We are the under-girdle, the pit crew, the foundation. We are the ever-present white noise, the hidden figures of nurturance and support.
My boys are deeply connected to their grandmothers. I'd venture to say that beyond me, their Misse and Nomna are their closest relations. And yet they struggled for specifics. Sort of in the way I'd struggle to share something about myself of which I'm very proud. In the way Nanny never took much credit for all she'd one. In the times Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson kept quiet, spoke up, and decided when and how to do either. And because they were Black, a lot more was risked and at stake. This is largely true today.
I thought of all of this yesterday when a close friend, who is Persian, told me that she didn't know now when she would see her parents and sister again. My friend has lived in the US for years, but her parents and sister are Iranian-German dual nationals wholly impacted by Trump's ban on entering folks from Muslim nations.
Not all Muslim nations, of course. Just the ones in which the Vulgar Yam doesn't own a Tower. His offensive ruling has nothing to do with anything but his own bottom line. We are, again, shunning people for no good reason. People who have made this country better and would continue to do so.
Like the many Mexicans who have come here and done the jobs Americans felt were beneath them, and paid taxes, and cared for our kids, and worked harder and with more dignity than many white Americans do or would. Who have picked tomatoes and cleaned homes and acted in ways far more patriotic than too many lazy white Americans I know.
One of my cousins today said about that fucking wall, "Build it long and tall." And I was so ashamed I nearly melted into myself. You can't pick your family, eh? Nanny would rather have died than say something so ugly, despite the fact that she too struggled with a Black first lady and a Black first family. But she struggled with it honestly and respectfully and came, at the dawn of her 90s, to see the errors of her past learnings. To address her unconscious but pernicious racist views and to confront them head on. To, ultimately, celebrate the beauty and dignity and complete realization of Americanness the Obamas embodied. That all the hidden figures in our past embodied. And to change her ways and vote accordingly.
As Trump shits on the core of what has made America a great place, I refuse to accept him and his mean, cruel, heartless, small-minded minions. You are what lessens us, and history will prove that theorem true. Now, more than ever, I see the value of voice and courage. I see how Nanny lived decades longer than anyone in her family had before her, and I know, in part, just why. Because she was the truest model of American exceptionalism: the rare bird to acknowledge her limitations, to address them, to change them, and to act on those changes.
THAT is the essence of what once made this country great, and I'll be damned if I don't try to live up to what she, and all the fighting and hidden figures before me, worked and fought for. We are better than walls and turning people back in airports. We must be, or we are nothing.