Jessie and Tommy, also known as Grandmommy and Granddaddy, first met at Union Elementary in the 1930’s in Hampton, Virginia. From elementary school to Phenix High School and then Hampton Institute, the “Home By the Sea” was the setting of their love story.
Granddaddy was a basketball player and majored in Mechanical Drafting. Grandmommy majored in English. After graduating college, Granddaddy got a job in New York and the high school sweethearts headed to the Big Apple and eloped. Grandmommy soon became pregnant and my young grandparents headed back to Hampton Roads and bought a house on Pembroke Avenue, the same home that I visited every summer from the time I was a baby to an adult.
Granddaddy became a postman. The boots he wore on his mail route everyday were bronzed and sat at the top of a shelf when you first entered the main room of the house. Grandmommy was a schoolteacher and guidance counselor and mailed me more cash than I probably deserved for every A and B that I earned on my report card.
They only had granddaughters—yes we are all girls—and some of us carried on the legacy of Grandmommy and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority which made her beam with pride. Whether us girls were part of a sorority or not, we all spent summers in Hampton all together. During our summer giggles in the backyard, vacation bible school, and the living room back-to-school fashion shows, I witnessed those little things that you don’t think too much about until you learn what love is. The touch of an arm, silly bickering, constant reminders to take medication and the sweet nicknames. Granddaddy was always Tommy and Grandmommy was Snooksy. I never saw them apart.
Granddaddy loved sports and that was about it for hobbies for him. Somehow my grandmother convinced him to take up painting. One by one, paintings filled the living room, kitchen and garage. They created more than 40 originals including their prized, historic Hampton University waterfront where they met and fell in love.
For as long as I can remember, Grandmommy suffered from diabetes. I saw her for the last time in the hospital and she was still so strong, beautiful, and poised. She died from her illness in 1999. My father died less than a year later. For the next 10 years, Granddaddy cried every single time he saw me. No shade, but he used to stress me out! I didn’t get it. I didn’t want to talk to him because it felt too heavy.
But one of the last times that I saw him alive, we had a rare moment. I mean rare! He usually only talked about sports with me because I was a high school athlete like my dad, who was a quarterback, and my uncle who played tennis. Granddaddy connected with me through sports. He addressed me as “Girl,” in the loving Southern grandfather kind of way, and told me that he was sad because he knew how happy Grandmommy would be to turn on the television and see me. Today, Danielle “the adult” understands. Everything Granddaddy accomplished, fought for and loved, brought me into to this world. I am the legacy of his love for my grandmother.
I learned that love is more than just feelings. It’s commitment, dedication and seeing the future. Building something that you can pass on. Love is legacy. No relationship is perfect. I know my grandparents had their ups and downs but when Grandmommy was on her deathbed, she wasn’t alone. She was there with her husband, her children, and her grandchildren. That was the masterpiece that they spent a lifetime painting.
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