I met her during a bitter cold Rochester, NY winter in the early 1980s – so at birth. I got to spend more than thirty years getting to know her, learning her story, and relying on her as a wise sage and confidant in finding my way in the world. She nourished my body with the best southern cuisine in the galaxy and fed my soul with the most insightful and godly wisdom this side of heaven.
Perl’s career had taken on a unique trajectory around the time I was born. So, to help her reach the corner office while still being “mom” to my older sister and I, Luvina, my mom’s mom, stepped in to fill in any of the gaps. From birth to about 4 years old, I only ate what Grandma fed me, I only watched TV with Grandma (mostly the news, the soaps, and cartoons – of course), and I only “went potty” with her or my aunt Nee-Nee nearby. We were inseparable!
By the time I started finally walking, Grandma had already developed debilitating arthritis. Despite her overwhelming pain, she wouldn’t complain and would only let on that she was hurting when climbing stairs or doing rather strenuous activities. Grandma would let out a soft and almost inaudible sound of distress: “Oy!” I would mimic her going up stairs and she’d laugh. I inadvertently got my nickname, “Buddy,” from her as a result of me always being in toe, going up and down the steep stairs of 96 Enterprise Street, the then family homestead in Rochester, NY.
But before she was my Grandmother, Luvina W. Smith was Luvina Wilson – a brilliant young girl of West Indy descent who was born in 1928 and lived on a farm in Williamsburg County, South Carolina. She was the eldest of 6 children, and in helping with the daily rearing of her younger siblings and the functions of farm management, learned to read at a very early age. Luvina placed orders for clothes, farm equipment, and all manner of household and farm supplies from the Sears & Roebuck Catalog. She would help keep track of everything on the farm – from the house to the barn, and she learned to cook. Noticing her talent, her parents sent her to an all girls’ boarding school in the nearby town of Kingstree, SC. Grandma once took me to the site of the school house where her intellectual curiosity was both encouraged and nourished. “It was segregated, of course,” she told me. “But we didn’t know to wonder what white kids were learning. I just thought they were suffering through composition as much as we were, too…”
Luvina’s love for learning would be one that she passed on to her progeny. Grandma would read the newspaper religiously and couldn’t resist a good crossword puzzle. “You have to keep your mind active,” she would tell me on visits to her house in my teens. I loved picking up articles or books she had laying around and seeing where she’d underlined a word she didn’t know or thought was improperly used. Her Bible was chocked full of her personal notes, thoughts, and questions in the margins. Her view of the world was unique: a cross between Godly reverence, the golden rule, and an overwhelming pursuit of equality and justice.
Grandma was active in her community and church. She taught her family the importance of civic engagement and servant leadership in her everyday life. From church governance to the county ballot box, Luvina stressed the importance of everyone’s voice being heard. She made it a point to encourage others to get involved and be well informed. Grandma once expressed the importance of knowing what issues were on the ballot by telling me, “Well, they could legalize slavery and if you don’t vote against it then, well… you just put the chains back on your own self!”
I know if she were here today, she’d laugh and call me “a little parakeet” at recanting almost verbatim her words of wisdom. Yes, Grandma – I listened to every word you said and will miss your encouraging and timeless logic. I’ll miss our Sunday evening chats, but I’ll remember how your history made my present and future possible. You will live on in your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and for generations to come. And we will work to continue to be your pride and your joy!