Part One: Spoiled versus Spoiled Rotten
When I was an infant, only a few months old, my grandmother Joanne noticed that I couldn’t roll over in my crib. She was often my babysitter while my parents worked, and on one particular afternoon, while watching me sleep, she thought that something wasn’t quite right. She called a friend of hers who lived down the street and asked her to come over immediately. Of course, I have no memory of any of this, but it’s always the story I’ve been told.
Two days ago, at the reception following her funeral, an elderly lady walked up to me, grabbed me by both of my hands, and said, “I was the one Joanne called when she thought you were having trouble rolling over.” My grandmother wanted a second opinion before sounding any alarms, and her friend concurred with her. A few weeks later, doctors diagnosed me with cerebral palsy.
I should say, from the onset, that throughout my life, no one has cared for me more and fought for me harder than my mother Carol. But I also know, without any doubt, that I will always owe a tremendous debt to my grandmother. In standing up for me, she taught me how to stand up for myself.
When I was growing up, our home shared a backyard with my grandparent’s home. They moved out to Kincaid Lake when I was around eight or nine years old, and their home became my second home. I lived with them for almost an entire year; they gave me a room, right next to theirs. In the mornings, when I lived with them, my grandfather would wake me up by gingerly planting a hot towel to my forehead, singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma, while my grandmother worked up elaborate and delicious breakfasts. Most mornings, she’d ask me what I wanted for dinner, which, back then, was usually one of only three things: roast, rice, and gravy, crawfish etoufee, or fried chicken. Gumbo was a special occasion, something that she would prepare over the course of two or three days; her gumbo is the reason I will always believe that a brown rue is inferior to a dark rue. At night, while they watched their television in the den, they let me curl up in their bed and watch Nick at Nite and The Cosby Show. She treated me like a prince, for sure, but she had her ways of ensuring that I knew the difference between being “spoiled” and being “spoiled rotten.”
She was a rare and exceptional person: a powerhouse, effusively dedicated, a woman brimming with kinetic energy, and an amazing grandmother.
She often quoted Matthew 6:3, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” That was her modus operandi.
My grandmother Joanne did many great things for our community and the State of Louisiana, but nothing she did was about her. She could be stubborn and bull-headed. She never shied away from controversy or confrontation. She loved telling it as she saw it, one of the many reasons I will always love and respect her.