My grandmother, Lena Faye Bridges Cockrell, or Nana as I called her, was the most influential adult in my formative years. She and I were close, possessing an altogether uncanny understanding of one another. She taught me to make biscuits from scratch when I was six, how to use a typewriter when I was nine, and gave me safe haven when I came out as gay at sixteen. She made time to attend my theater performances, bought me school clothes every year and always professed her belief in me. To others, her opinions were intractable, her pursuit of perfection was inflexible, and her judgments were implacable. To me, her love was unmistakable.
On Sunday, September 21, 2014, my grandmother passed away at age 87. It was also her birthday. Last year I shared two short Nana-inspired writings to honor her memory. On the recent anniversary of her birth and crossing over, I’d like to share another:
Back to School
Now, don’t lag. We have to get to J.C. Penney before they close! I can’t believe Sears didn’t have pants in your size! And they used to be such a nice place to shop. Who would’ve guessed you would grow so much in one year! It’s like you’re wearing knickers! Now there’s some khaki and navy slacks. I think they’re nice, don’t you? Do you like this plaid shirt? What’s that face for? Oh, that’s right, I forgot, you don’t like plaid. Or short sleeves neither. Or shirts with pockets on the front. No, I don’t think they make you look like a nerd at all. Handsome young men wear these clothes. But still, let’s keep looking. Well, that blue shirt is sharp. But twenty five dollars for a shirt, no no. I don’t know who Ralph Lauren is, but he’s not getting that much money from me. I wasn’t born yesterday, you know. Now about your shoes. How are your penny loafers holding up? Montgomery Ward is having a sale on Buster Browns. I just hope we can find something for your narrow feet. I can tell they’ve gotten a size or two large this year too! My word, you sure are shooting up! Soon, you’ll be taller than me. What would you do without your Nana? Now I don’t mind doing for you like this, but you have to get good grades and make something of yourself. You get them to teach you everything they know and then some. Get smart, but not too smart. No one likes a know it all. Do you have a black belt or just a brown one? What about socks? Underwear? What size are you this year? I think we’ll go with Hanes, don’t you? Fruit of the Loom never seems to go on sale. Why are staring off into space like that? I declare, sometimes you just don’t listen! You’ll have to do better than that in school. I’m not buying all these clothes so you can fall behind, no sir! Oh, my feet are so tired and I am getting hungry. No, I am not buying you that pink shirt with the crocodile on it and you can put back those turquoise shorts too. Who ever heard of corduroy shorts? All right, we’re done here. These lights are blinding me!