Who’s Your Grandma?


One of my treasured Thanksgiving traditions made a huge comeback this year. We had dinner at my ‘aunt’ Mary’s house. Mary is actually my second cousin, but because she is older than my mother, her first cousin, I’ve taken to calling her ‘aunt’. It’s a ‘black thing’. What’s the fun of being of Jamaican or Southern American heritage (heck, almost anyone who is not a WASP) if you can’t indulge in these little customs?

In any case, Mary and her late husband Larry have always been pillars in our lives, and their house has been a locus of familial togetherness for as long as I can remember. Their generosity extended far beyond family, leading them to take in wayward young people who needed a stable home environment as they regained their bearings in their lives.

Despite the fact that Mary and her late husband Larry moved further south years ago, they cannot escape the ties that have kept their family unit together!  Thanksgiving was just like old times: we gathered at my second cousin Mary’s house for a potluck dinner. Everyone’s contributions were tasty, from the jerked pork, a Caribbean favorite, to the sweet potato pie, cherry pie, lasagna and the beer-marinated ham.  There were modern updates on standard hits too: instead of cranberry sauce, I brought homemade cranberry bread. My other cousin Madeline did a nice update on mac & cheese, topped with Italian bread crumbs. These days, several whipper snappers have taken to calling Mary ‘grandma’, expressing their endearment and kinship with a woman who provided emotional needs that are either lacking in their own families. So throughout Thanksgiving dinner, it was ‘grandma’ this or ‘grandma’ that.

I’d like to sweeten my daughter’s life with as many cultural customs as possible, and because my Jamaican friends and family have all sorts of fluid connections with each other, she will likely take to calling Mary ‘grandma’ one day. It’s not far fetched at all. Aside from the long history and strong ties that Mary and I have, she was in the delivery room soon after Baby was born and she stayed at our house for a week to help take care of all of us. Ah, but WASPs, and their ilk don’t typically carry on such customs and that’s where Hubby and I differ. He doesn’t think Baby should take to calling Mary ‘grandma’, because she might be confused as to who her actual grandmother is.

Now, here is where I need to set Hubby straight on a few things. Doesn’t he know that children are whip-smart creatures, perfectly aware of whom their grandmothers are? Baby is no exception. Like other children, she will have a big, colorful imagination and be able to slip between fantasy and reality quite easily. One moment she will be navigating Everest (the stairs in our house), and another, the stairs will be objects to be scrambled over if she’ll escape hard time in the corner for attempting to pull off the Great Cookie Caper. 

Calling Mary ‘grandma’ will not confuse Baby as to who her real grandmothers are, even if Grandma Huntzberger (Hubby’s side) and Grandma Morrill (my side) each live in different Southern states and she doesn’t see them regularly. It’s really quite simple: she’ll observe other kids calling Mary ‘grandma’ and pick up the habit. I’ll explain to her that her real grandmothers live in South Carolina and Georgia, but she can let Mary borrow the grandma title whenever they are not around. Et voila!

I anticipate just one potential problem with her calling Mary grandma. My mother is the jealous type, and if she isn’t in South Carolina brooding about our family felicity here without her, then the thought of her only grandchild calling someone else ‘grandma’ is sure to bring the fire-breathing creature out of her.  

I grew up in the same two-family house as Mary’s family, and I referred to Mary’s mother, as ‘grandma’, because I was always around my cousins and she didn’t mind that I called her that, right along with her own grandchildren. No one corrected me and it would have been unnecessary, anyway. I knew full well the story behind my own grandparents: my maternal grandmother was far off in Jamaica, my grandfather died when my mother was little. My father was not in my life, and I would never meet my paternal grandparents, so I put them out of my mind.

Maybe I’m imposing expectations on Baby based on my own experiences, but I don’t think we’ll slight the Huntzbergers or Morrills, or confuse the poor kid by allowing her to carry on a harmless custom. So rather than saddle Baby with unnecessary angst stemming from not wanting to offend overly sensitive people, I’d rather allow her to have fun with her heritage and make her life a little sweeter.


2 thoughts on “Who’s Your Grandma?

  1. I also think it is fine that your baby daughter call your cousin Mary grandma too. Something similar has always been done in my family as well with both my older male and female relatives. I was also raised to do this older people depending on their relationship to my family regardless of their race.

    Personally, I’m also known as “auntie Chelle” to all of the neighborhood children and my co-worker’s children too. My husband is also known as “uncle” too. Everyone is a mixture of racial backgrounds (African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and White) so I think it is being done by more and more people.

    I do not think it confuses children at all. In my opinion, if anything it teaches children to respect adults and older people in general.

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