“Why you never bought a house?” I said to Granddad one day on a college school break. He didn’t get offended. Nor did he shift his posture, remote in hand, sitting up watching jeopardy to turn to me on the other end of his full-size bed. Instead, he chuckled.
Charles E. Hunnicutt, my maternal granddad was known as Dad for two generations—his children and his grandchildren. By the time I lived with him, he had lived years into his retirement. But he still rose up before the sun to stare out of his kitchen window. His timing was on par with his sanitation shift he had held for 28 years of his life.
One of those days he found his wife, Grandma Carmen Trumpet slumped over in the living room. Two weeks prior, they had just added Mom, Christine Hunnicutt to their Brady Bunch of three daughters (one who he legally adopted) and son. They had planned to raise their children together in Breukelen projects. But at that moment the mission looked impossible.
Granddad’s chuckle blew hot air out his nose. He had been in this position before. His nose had been set on more concoctions of stink than there are definitions for set in the Oxford English Dictionary. He knew my question was grounded on twin false ideas—what I understood and what I knew. His life had revolved around another set of twins. Twin goals—saving up for retirement and providing for his children until they could take care of themselves. In Breukelen projects, neighbors—families with children like his own, were on a similar mission.
In Granddad’s three-bedroom apartment, he didn’t have to worry about the poverty that followed him like a shadow as a child. Although Brownsville, where he had grown up, was only a few miles away. The distance between the chapters in his life he had live through with his mom (Great-Grandma Grace) and his older sister after his father left, and his final chapter with me were so vast he took those stories to his grave.
Mom didn’t let us go a holiday without being with family. By the time I got into a video game, she would come into my room insisting I start getting ready.
“We’re going to your aunts,” she said, while holding a portable phone to her ear. It wasn’t clear which one of her three sisters she meant. I probably half listened while my fingers moved the directional pad on the controller to explore the depths of a role-playing game.
My aunts: Patsy, Grace and Vicki played an important role to Mom. They were her only household presence to being female. They formed a sisterhood of trust that was grounded on one principle: family (I could literally count on one hand the other people she would let watch me).
On Thanksgiving we took the L train to the J to Aunt Patsy’s co-op apartment. For Christmas we trained and then bused it to Queens to Aunt Vicky’s apartment where she had a living tree impose itself in her living room off sheer height. And on July 4th or Labor Day we hoped on the B6 to East New York to reach Aunt Grace’s door steps where she hosted a cook out.
Mom had me carry potato or macaroni salad until we arrived or she grew tired of me holding it without a care. Whether it was intended or not here she transformed into the baby sister the youngest of five born on September 4th, 1962. But she wouldn’t blow up over anything her sisters would say even after I heard one say, “You’re looking fat.”
The family was more important than her own individual feelings, a source of hope through despair. The support no matter how it was fashioned, “Chris, I’ll watch your son whenever you need to get yourself together” or “let’s take our kids on a trip” had help make raising me by herself look like magic. That bond is what keeps me searching through the generations. It is not just to see to the good times or bad. But to find and preserve the courage it took to live through it all.
7 Generations – is a blog series that digs into my family tree to consider the impact of circumstances and decisions through the generations.
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) received his MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He’s eyeing agents to help publish his coming of age story, Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been published in TSR: The South Hampton Review and is forthcoming in The Tishman Review. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com.
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