Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Nana in the Garden: Taking Care of Ourselves
Joyce McKenzie, my Nana, can make anything grow. Look at me. First grandchild with the flowering hair, the undisciplinable body, granddaughter of a once undocumented immigrant (my Nana) with a migrant spirit, nomad hands and a disdain for passports. Some people know how to make anything grow. Even the most difficult, unpredictable shoots of hope we have.
This is for Nana. Nana who snuck into my room to end my cough by rubbing white rum on my chest. Nana who made me drink all kinds of things I was afraid of. "Drink it down! While it's hot!" Nana of the lemon and honey. Nana of the best soup EVER. Nana of the cornmeal porridge. Nana of the the cod-liver oil. Nana of the seven seas. Nana who reminds me every month to get a British Passport. Nana who knows why one citizenship is not enough. Nana of the golden seal. Nana who finds sweaters and wool pants in South Florida to mail North "for my little professor". Nana of the box of oranges mailed from Florida to the New York City dorm room twice a winter. Nana of the Valentine's Day cards, the Easter Cards, the it's Wednesday and I love my granddaughter cards. Nana who sent me the microwave and the rice cooker, anything to get that skinny child to eat. Some people know how to nurture even the most threatened and least cooperative green young things.
Nana is from Jamaica. Which means we are from Jamaica. None of us will never get used to frost. And since Nana lives in central Florida she rarely has to. Just last month she called incredulous about a freeze that cut short the life of her hibiscus flowers. Today she told me that she will be planting roses again. I love my hibiscus, but roses are hardy, she said. They know how to survive the winter. Everything Nana says is advice, whether she knows it or not. I need to embroider that somewhere. "They know how to survive the winter." But even though I have a sewing machine in my old school living room, near the mantle that features a picture of me as a little kid between my two grandmothers. Even though my Grandma Lydia Gumbs went to Pratt, sewed the prize winning graduation dress, and made me the most elaborate halloween costumes, my own black raggedy-ann dolls, I haven't learned how to sew yet.
And even though Nana has grown mangoes, oranges, bananas, hibiscus, roses and more in backyards from Miami to Lakeland, I haven't learned to garden yet either. If it wasn't for my partner even my bamboo would probably have withered long ago. But now...along with the womyn in the SPEAK collective and the remnants of UBUNTU the unruly, ungrounded shake in my hands is meeting the earth. It is time to take care of ourselves. My backyard (or our yard behind the house I rent) is about to become our community garden. Basil, tomatoes, lettuce, goldfish, marigolds, rainbarrels, compost, corn, cucumbers. I know nothing about any of this, but some people know how to make anything grow. Even me.
This morning Nana had surgery. A lumpectomy and for five days she will be having radiation. Yesterday Nana made her famous soup..with the dumplings in it...I'm hungry even thinking about it. My mother is in Florida with Nana doing a raw fruit and vegetable fast (which means she couldn't eat the soup either!). She is confident telling me that she will be okay. And I believe and intend that she will recover quickly. She has already promised to come boss us around here in the garden in Durham. And next month my mother is fulfilling her lifelong goal to become a doula by participating in a doula training specifically for women of color co-sponsored by SisterSong. And Mama Nayo said she'd come back to us as babies or corn. And we are alive and growing. We are taking care of ourselves.
Blessed are the gardeners. We know how to make each other grow. Hold my Nana in your thoughts.
p.s. this is also for Sanesha Stewart's grandmother who I was blessed to hear speak at the beautiful vigil in her honor at the Bronx Community Pride Center this weekend. Outliving our grandmothers is hard. We cannot afford to outlive our granddaughters. Hold in your thoughts a beautiful loving woman who is outliving her granddaughter now because of transphobic violence.