The flowers in my garden are reaching and stretching high towards the comforting warmth of the summer sun. Freshly blossomed and standing tall with no hesitation. No voices questioning their purpose, the stories of their lineage. Simply existing in the lusciousness of the beauty in each moment. It’s incredible that they once started as nothing more than a seed. Small, closed off to its true entire being, begging for loving nutrition and never questioning its existence. But my look at how they’ve bloomed! Once, they were placed in loved soil, kissed by the sun, and regularly baptized by rain.
Golden buckeyes and tomato plants take me back to my grandparents’ garden, where we’d sit in Chicago summers. The Eagles “Hotel California” humming through radio speakers and laughter from old stories shared filled the gentle summer breeze. These preciously rare moments were unexperienced during my childhood due to divorce and distance. Enjoying my grandparents as an adult has been like finding the rarest flower in the garden of Eden. As a child, I mostly connected with my maternal family and one paternal aunt. There were so many things I wanted to know about my grandparents and the rest of my paternal family, including my father. Sadly enough, this is not a unique experience due to various reasons other than the absent father plague, such as the crack epidemic and children losing their parents to violence or the prison system. All these seeds are begging to reach an understanding of their identity and wanting answers to their “whys”. Linking up and having deep conversations, singing old songs, and learning about your family history just brings so much clarity about who you are, those who contributed to your existence, and most importantly, the generational challenges you may have to face. I digress before this article transforms into something completely different…
During my teenage years and in my twenties, I felt like the outlier in my maternal family. I desperately wanted to understand the origins of my quirkiness. These seemingly random characteristics of mine were so perplexing because I had nothing to base it on. For instance, when I was a kid, every other kid, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, would respond; a doctor, lawyer, police officer, whatever. None of those were my responses. Oddly enough, even writing wasn’t my response. If someone asked me what I wanted to be, my response was a nomad. Yeah, I know. It could be perceived as though I was a strange child, a hippie, or just a smart ass. Please understand, all those thoughts are correct, but. I wanted to be a nomad because that’s what Jesus was. All that traveling and exploring new cultures was incredibly appealing to me. However, what I desired most was to just be free to do, be, and explore. Even my deep love for music, random facts, inappropriate sense of humor, and my way of thinking was not what I saw reflected from my maternal family members. I was listening to music from the 1950’s – 1970’s as a teen, knowing each lyric to the point that my Mom asked me what old ass man I was messing with. I had to find the connections that made me who I am and discover my missing familial love. Genetics is incredibly inescapable, whether you know your family or not. It’s the connection you cannot outrun. There will be remnants even if you’ve never met them.
I made several trips from North Carolina to Chicago since reuniting with the Chicago Barr family in 2013 and - my goodness - it feels so good. Just soaking in all of my family and connecting the dots was fulfilling. Meeting my cousins and their kids, noticing that we all have the signature prominent front teeth that favor rabbits, with us all having the same joyous wide smile from my Grandpa. My Grandpa greeting me with a “Hey baby,” then he jumps into the conversation with his jokes and boisterous laugh that I can still hear. Quick-witted, sassy, and resilient like my Grandma as she lovingly cooks her famous Arkansas fried corn on a cast iron skillet while telling stories so funny your ribs hurt. The mixture of the aromas and laughter quenching my soul. My aunt playing The Isley Brothers “For the Love of You” in the background.
“Drifting on a memory, ain’t no place I’d rather be than with you.”
Family albums are being passed around and I find myself admiring the beauty in the images shared. I could see myself in each of those pictures and was saddened that I never had the opportunity to meet the people in the pictures. But I knew that – undeniably – I was a part of them.
This year I made my nomadic journey to Chicago to wish my beloved Grandfather farewell. Reflecting on those earlier trips that were about meeting family, whereas my recent trip was about getting the story. It’s astounding the amount of information you learn about your family when someone is transitioning. Why don’t families give you all the lost files sooner? It’s as though while they’re processing their emotions, they’re more willing to verbalize the memories, both the good and the bad. I learned that feeling like the outlier was a genetic trait. An entire family feels like they’re on their own island, but all they must do is reach out, and someone is literally right there. Insert Alanis Morrisette’s ironic song here.
How many conversations and relationships within this family could have been healed if we simply picked up the phone and had the healing conversations? I discovered the need for freedom comes from my Grandpa. He was always exploring new places, meeting new people, traveling to go on fishing trips. I admire that he lived his life on his own terms. Unfortunately, this approach caused abandonment issues with most of the family. Thus the creation of a generational curse which we’re all working through or releasing in our own ways. I mean, who isn’t in some way dealing with abandonment issues? I have always wished I could approach life the way he did, just in a more practical, balanced way. Even with my family, exploring the world sometimes feels irresponsible, but my soul yearns to enjoy this life freely. Work calls, but I refuse to deny my adventurous spirit any longer.
The night my Grandpa breathed his final breath I learned that, although I wanted information, I primarily just wanted more time. I was grateful to even make it to him with a few days to spend with him, love on him, and pray for him. I was able to hear him muster enough strength to breathe his customary greeting for me, “Hey, Baby.” The heavy-set man was significantly thinner, weaker. Prostate cancer completely robbed him of his vitality, and my Grandmother was in a rehab facility across town. I realized that anything else I wanted to learn was irrelevant. I now have a deeper compassion for family, my father, as well as myself because we can’t change the past. We are who we are now and were who we were then. We can only intentionally create the love we desire most in the now.
What mattered most was much like the garden. Enjoying the time we have in each other’s lives, simply existing in the lusciousness of the beauty in each moment and enjoying the nourishment of their expressions of love.
Note : This piece was originally submitted and published on ThisWomansWords.Co
Read more stories from women of color by visiting her website.