It was Christmas again. Time to put on my nice sweater. My twin sister is putting on her nice dress. As she and I are getting ready to visit our White grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa Stewart. Scottish-Canadian lovely folks who were warm, emotionally distant, yet formally present.
Mom’s ready so we loaded into the “boat”, which was an old green Chevy who kept close ties with call boxes and local mechanics. We’d find our way up the Oakland hills where upper class members of the “Town” resided. Before the Oakland fire, we journeyed up there on special occasions for grandparent visits. These visits were always similar. Starting with a handshake or hug at the door. Chatting with grandpa while grandma finished dinner in the kitchen. Always warm, cozy, and clean in their home.
As it was Christmas, we’d expect presents to open and play with. They were always good for that, and we loved them for it. Not a lot of talk or affection between them and us until we grew older. But as 6 year olds, we took the back seat to my mother. Two black kids. Two mixed kids. The first generation of Black infusion to the always White Stewart family. We found ourselves both a part of their lives, and separated from their social circles where race mixing was still novel.
A large chicken was cut into by grandpa Stewart, the patriarch. And for the next hour we’d listen to stories about the railroads, World War II, and other interests of grandpa. He held court, while my sister and I snickered to grandma’s comments on the far side of the table. The food was always good, flavorful, well proportioned. Obesity was never an option due to our portion sizes, and frowned upon as well. Yet, always dessert afterwards. Soon we’d leave, having put on our coats, given hugs or handshakes, heading back down the hill into the flatlands of Oakland. The ghetto where black lives mattered, and gunshots were cacophonic street notes. The ‘hood welcomed a White mother with her mixed kids, and our unit greeted neighbors with cuteness and pamphlets on joining our Buddhist religion. Both of these were protective measure from the danger around us, and genuine connection points with the good hearts of those living on our street.
Getting home, sleep would take over after the solid meal and subtle family time. With our new toys being the highlight of the evening, as kids ought to believe. Tomorrow we’d visit grandma Johnny, on our Black side. We never called it our Black side until we learned about
Black, and that people outside of our family cared about such things as race. When that point arrived, race became everything, and the distinctions became important to tell you who I am, by describing their colors.
Waking up, we’d prepare to see grandma Johnny in whatever form we’d prefer. Jeans, t-shirt, and loose sweater were sufficient. The currency where we were headed was love and Southern good eats. Never to be disappointed we found love in abundance upon our arrival. Hugged to death and cheeks sucked by Grandma Johnny we were initiated into the family. Uncles, aunts, new boyfriends, girlfriends, kids from around the way, friends of our cousin were present. “Kids outside, and keep your hands off the walls!” Away we went with our cousin for an hour long adventure of cartoon tag and run-over before we checked back in on the adults inside. Here the informality of dinner, family members eating off of paper plates, sitting on the couch, on floors, or standing. All watching basketball or a recent flick, drinking cool-aid or Pepsi. Laughter rife, smiles plentiful, my father tall and dark, handsome with an off putting sense about him came, wafted in and out of the party. Him and my sister with an odd relationship never to heal, and he and I pressured for connection. Yet loved prevailed, playfulness commanded, and food piled up high in the eyes of children just taller than the table. 2nds, 3rds, of macaroni and cheese, soul food classics, greens, fried chicken, cornbread, biscuits, yams, stuffing, corn, was present. Straight from the South cooking. Grandma Johnny never disappointed. Heaven had a name and it was grandma Johnny’s house on Christmas. Jewel jr. was lauded for getting another plate, and their encouragement was part of the reason for my decision. These gatherings lasted for hours, and eventually with full plates wrapped in tinfoil, we’d journey back on the “boat” to our East Oakland home.
These were our two family experiences growing up, my sister and I, for mixed youngsters of African-American and Scottish-Canadian descent. Both valuable, both shaping our experiences as kids, youth, and as young adults. Today, I still struggle with an African-American identity, and an emerging mixed one. My sister seems to be comfortable as brown and mixed. Forever, I will have a sense of the calmness present our White grandparents house and the fun in my African-American grandma’s home. Both pieces add to my personality. Boisterous and stoic, formal and loving, boundaried and eclectic. All in proper proportion, and unfortunately, sometimes off. However, they all work together to honor my ancestors’ voices. Through this, my ancestors speak through me
My name is Jewel Loe, and I was born in Oakland, California. I am the son of a Scottish-Canadian mother and African-American father. I work in private practice as a psychotherapist, and enjoy hip-hop music and singing.