I was thinking about my grandmother this morning and I started smiling. I laughed out loud as I remembered some of the experiences shared which did not seem significant when I was a child, but are important now. The many acts of love displayed by my paternal grandmother remain with me years after the fact. Just thinking of them makes me feel the love even though my grandmother is no longer alive.

We, the grandchildren referred to our grandmother as Mother Zelma. My grandfather, who we referred to as Papa, called her “Saffire,” because as he would tell us “she is one sassy woman.” For the longest I did not know whether that was meant as a positive or a negative attribute to her being. I would watch the energy exchanged between them when he would call her “Saffire,” instead of Zelma. Often it was done to annoy or tease her. I would see the fire in her eyes and the expression on her face as she looked at Papa as he attempted to provoke her. Most of the time she would ignore him and keep doing whatever she was doing. The other times, she would retort back with something smart that would have everyone amused. We, the grandchildren would be giggling at the exchange, even though half of the comments went over our head just because of our young age. We knew, whatever it meant, it was funny and came from a heartfelt place. It was times like this that I could view Mother Zelma as someone other than my grandmother. She was a vulnerable yet strong independent woman.

Mother Zelma was structured and regimented about everything in her life, except her grandchildren. I believe we allowed her and maybe taught her how to play. She admitted she never had much time to play when she was a child. Mother Zelma did not talk about her youth much but I do remember her sharing with me how hard life had been when she was young.

I know for sure that we, her grandchildren played a significant role in her ability to open her guarded life. Children have a way of unarming even the most guarded people due to their natural tendency toward innocence and acceptance. Mother Zelma, as I mentioned was structured and that meant everything in her life was neat and orderly to a fault. She was always cleaning and the house, although I never saw the house dirty or out of place, except when we, her grandchildren came to visit which we did at least once a week.

Every Sunday after church we would stop by her house and enter with toys, books, crayons and lots of noise, ready to play. I am sure she prayed extra those days for patience as we ran through the house, around the house and in the house as children do. Exploring everything and anything we could get into. From the second she opened the front door to her home to let us in, our being there transformed what had been a quiet atmosphere to a boisterous “function at the junction.” When the noise got to be a bit much Mother Zelma would have us sit and do quiet things. We hated those moments and thank goodness, they did not last too long.

One of my favorite pastimes was to play grownup. I would strut around the house in a pair of her high heels and sometimes she would allow me to wear her cherry red lipstick. I would then go through her clothes looking for something pretty and not matronly. Eventually I would work my way to her prized cedar chest (which I now own.) The chest was filled with beautiful things she never used or wore. I would pull them out one by one and ooh and ah over them. She never wore the clothes she put away in her cedar chest, so every now and then I would ask her if I could have whatever would catch my eye that day. Mother Zelma would just smile as usually tell me no I could have what was in the chest. She would softly tell me that one day I would have my own chest of dreams. Sometimes she would tell me that one day she would use these things she loved and had in many cases worked hard to acquire. She was just waiting for the right time or the right opportunity to do so.

My grandmother never used anything in that cedar chest which was full of dreams and things she had collected throughout her years. I think she surprised herself in the fact that could acquire things she never thought she could. But she was determined and she did acquire some lovely things, that were once a dream and to them safe she tucked them away, never to be used by her. I remember the many conversations we would have as I rambled through her treasures. She would sometimes share dreams she had when she was my age. At first, I was surprised that she, my grandmother had dreams that had nothing to do with the life she now lived. Those moments allowed me to see her in an exciting different light then how I had always seen her. She was more than just a grandmother, she was grand as a person

Looking back, I am grateful to have known her as a woman as well as a grandmother. It allows me to better understand the woman I am in all the roles I play in life. Her disappointments and lack of perceived and real opportunities prevented her from stepping fully into what she already had hidden away.

I was in my 20’s when she told me on one of my visits that I could have her chest and everything in it that I wanted. I was honored and speechless by her gift. What I understand now is what she did not see for herself, she somehow saw in me. I must admit in my journey, at one point I almost forgot I had dreams. One day circumstance allowed me to see that now was the time to open my chest and reveal all my hidden treasures. The bounty of gifts that are a part of me that I was born to share.

All of us have gifts that we must not keep hidden away. “Saffire” taught me so much and gave me even more. “Saffire,” Mother Zelma, my grandmother taught me that my dreams are worth exposing and using. They do no good hidden away. We must all remember that you live your dreams by sharing your dreams. Dream on!


Regina Gale

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