“Everything I am, they taught me”

“The earliest, most valuable, and most beloved moments of my life were with my grandparents,” writes Errollyn Jackson-Dickerson, 37, a reader in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Everything I am, they taught me.”

Errollyn’s mother wasn’t married when she was born, which, at the time, her grandparents weren’t happy about, she writes.

However, “their love for me was unparalleled and unqualified.”

“I spent so much time with them in part because my mom worked and her hours were grueling: she was in the Army when I was born, then became a member of the National Guard, then a police officer. I was also very ill until I was four, then under guarded watch until I was about eight.”

Every morning, Errollyn’s grandma, Irene, would pray with her and read to her from an encyclopedia of African-American success stories.

“I believe this was her way of preparing me for a world that wouldn’t always welcome me,” writes Errollyn, now a graduate student in emergency management. “I don’t recall her saying anything about racism; that wasn’t really her way.”

She and her grandma also spent a lot of time cooking and gardening together.

“From her I learned patience, process, common sense, [and] how to be a lady.”

Meanwhile, her grandpa, Irvin, taught her to respect herself.

One day, she says, she came home from school crying because a kid at school had called her a mean name.

“I don’t recall what it was—most likely something childish and silly—but he took it as seriously as I did.”

“He simply leaned down, wiped my tears, and said, ‘Never respond to a name someone in this family didn’t give you.’”

Irvin died in 1993, at age 74, and Irene died four years later, at age 75. But Errollyn still feels “the magic of belonging to them.”

Every other summer, she gets to honor them formally when her entire extended family gathers for a reunion. There’s always a picnic and there’s always a dance, but there’s also a memorial service at which the names of the dead are read aloud.

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And for that moment, Errollyn says, they live again.