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TheRootDC
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Posted at 01:31 PM ET, 10/06/2011

What my grandmother taught me

There are people, places, pets and some things (a painting, a favorite baseball glove, a family heirloom) that come into your life and never leave. They are part of you. Connections. Send us your pieces, long or short, about what’s nearest to you. Unsure how to start? Shoot us an e-mail (therootdc@washpost.com) and we will help. These pieces will run regularly online. Some will find their way into print.

To give you an idea of what we mean, here’s one about my grandmother, Daisy Mae Francis.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but before I knew it, she had smacked me lightly across my cheek. I would have been in middle school, maybe junior high, and had always had what my people called a smart mouth because I had to have the last word.

Even when I was acting up, she always listened.

Like many kids, I thought I knew everything and always had another question to ask. She had 13 living children and dozens of grandchildren, but I felt like she listened to me as though I was the only one.

As I grew, I poked and prodded for tidbits of family history. When I was away at college or an internship, we would stay on the phone for what felt like eons as she walked me through making a roux or cooking whatever dish from home I was craving at the time. In fact, I perfected making gumbo with her and my mom over the phone.

Her listening extended to family members, friends, friends of friends, children of friends, her pastors, her son’s girlfriends, ex-girlfriends and ex-wives and even the mail men. Someone was always calling or dropping in to sit on the couch and pour out their troubles.

She could be stern at times. But her patients--my word, not hers--kept coming back for advice.

From Franklin, La., she seemed to remember all of our schedules, the times we got off, where we had traveled or whether we had some big appointment coming up.

I relished my time back home on visits that got more urgent when she was diagnosed in 2006 with ovarian cancer.

During those times, every four or six or eight weeks, we would talk into the wee hours of the morning, about nothing and everything. About relationships, about life, about my grandfather who died in 1986, about Obama, about whatever came to her mind. In between, however, there were long silences in which we said nothing.

That silence was the strength of our relationship. We understood each other without speaking. Miles Davis talked about the space between the notes being just as important as what came out of the business end of his trumpet. Silence ain’t silent at all. It’s just another form of communication that also tells you something.

On the night that the Saints won the Super Bowl in February 2010, I dialed her number expecting one of dozens of delirious relatives to answer. By then, though she was still walking, the cancer had sapped her strength. But she picked up and answered with a vibrant, ‘Who Dat!”

We could each hear the other smiling through the phone along with the rest of Who Dat Nation. Amidst all the hoopla, as always, she was our matriarch, the one who taught us the importance of saving, the importance of family. She died two weeks later.

I used to tell her everytime she teared up when I or other family members departed for our homes: “We Always. You can’t get rid of us. We are ALWAYS.” And we still are.

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