The roots of my family tree run deep in the red clay of Mississippi. My mom and dad were among the first to break the mold and move out of state. My grandmothers still live there, as do my aunts, uncles, and cousins.
My grandparents were good people who worked hard but had little. Their weekdays were filled with their labors and devotion to their children and grandchildren. Sundays were for worship and the fried chicken and biscuits that followed. They kept “The Good Book” handy and prayed at every meal, and plenty of times in-between. They also used racial slurs as freely as they drew breath.
Mississippi has the largest population of African Americans in the United States, and the color line seems to be drawn in permanent ink or, perhaps, in blood. Because of this, I always believed I would never go back after my daughters came home from Haiti. Through two transracial adoptions, I became the first person in my family to enter a familial relationship with someone of color.
For whatever reason, I decided recently that it was time to go home. Maybe it was because my grandmother is in her mid-90’s now. I loaded up the van, the five kids, and began the journey home.
Miles stretched on, and the green hills of Tennessee gave way to the forests of Mississippi. I stared at the tall pine trees standing sentry along the side of the two-lane road. Here and there, kudzu and poverty seem to be in a race to see which could overtake the countryside first.
In the backseat, my children laughed at The Muppet Show on our van’s TV, and I began to pray, for protection, for mercy. I prayed that, if my family responded unkindly to the sight of their brown great-grandbabies, I would have the wisdom and strength to confront them. I prayed that nothing negative my kids heard or saw during the visit would “stick.”
The next day, as we entered the nursing home together, I took a deep breath and held my adopted daughters hands tighter. We walked down the hall to find my grandmother sitting in the lunchroom. She had no idea we were coming, but she looked as if she were waiting for someone.
“Grandmother, it is me, Sherri,” I said. “I have my children with me. Here are my daughters, the ones you have not met.”
And a miracle happened. She pulled my brown babies into her arms and said, “I’m your grandmother, do you know that?” She kissed them and held them tight. She loved my babies as if she had waited for them forever. There was not a hint of malice, rejection, or questioning. They were mine, so they were hers. That was all.
It was a beginning. I have wondered, as she sat with my daughters that day, if anyone had ever asked her about them and, if they did, what she said to them. Until that moment, the racial lines had been brutally simple: black, white, them, us.
But one line has faded. My grandmother, at the end of her life, and to her surprise, found that something had shifted. It wasn’t so easy to know who was good and who was bad by the color of their skin.
Maybe there is hope after all.