Tomorrow, I plan to visit my grandfather’s grave. He fought in World War II and his remains are in a national cemetery not very far from my house. I think of him quite often. I miss him everyday.
I doubt I would be where I am today without my grandfather. He was the first man to tell me I was beautiful. Not pretty, not cute, but beautiful. All but one of my memories of him are pleasant and even the unpleasant one makes me smile. One afternoon I was playing in my grandparents front yard and he was sitting in his chair watching me. My father pulled up in the driveway and my grandfather calmly told me to get inside of the house. I did as I was told, but I could see from the front porch that my grandfather had pulled his handgun out on my father and told him to leave his property. My father quickly got out of there and my grandfather walked inside of the house as if he did not have a gun and smiled at me. He gave me a warm smile. A smile that I just saw pop up in my head that has made tears fall down from my eyes. He was the protector, the comforter, and the healer in my life. He knew what life was like with my father and he tried his best to shield me from it all.
When I left my father’s home about 6 years after that incident, I had the opportunity to really get to know my grandfather. He introduced me to Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, and other jazz artist on vinyl. I can remember how the record rolled around the turntable like a boat sailing on water. He told me stories of New Orleans, what he called real donuts, and art. He also told me about his time in the Army.
My grandfather repeatedly made a point of telling me that the Army was not a place for a Black man. (I guess I took that quite literally considering I am a Black woman and went anyway) He spoke of the discrimination and outright racism that he had endured. You could feel the anger coming from within him. He also spoke of having to prove that he knew his job and having to take orders from someone with no intelligence. He would show me his pictures and I remember his eyes and it was clear that something had changed within him. I didn’t understand what war could do to a person then, but I do now. My grandfather left the United States for war a Christian and came back an Atheist. He told me that there could be no God after seeing what he had saw. I cannot even begin to imagine what he must have seen and went through, but I am honored to have carried on his legacy, even if he is rolling his eyes at me.
When I joined the Army, I didn’t even have my grandfather in my thoughts. When I got to Iraq, I thought of him constantly. I wondered what his living conditions must have been like. Did anyone ever threaten his life? How was his training? How did he feel when he came home? I had so many questions and so much pride that he made it. He made it! Not only did he make it, but he was one awesome man. The thing is, he wasn’t my real grandfather, but you or I would have never known. He loved and treated my mother like his own when her father never even looked her way. He moved my grandmother from New Orleans with hardly anything and they managed to own 2 grocery stores and a home. He was a respected man of the community. He was the most generous, loving and caring man I had ever met. Because of him, I believed that good men existed. It wasn’t just Dr. Huxtable on the Cosby show because I had an example right before my eyes. His heart was so genuine. You knew when he looked at you that he loved you.
My grandfather died a year after I moved into my grandparents house. His death was an incredible loss to me and my family. He loved us and we loved him. I’m just so thankful for him and all that he sacrificed in his lifetime. I carry him with me always. I will remember him tomorrow as I remember him always.
Love you forever Grandpa Batiste