An Open Letter to Alysia Steele

I have just finished reading a most interesting book Jewels of the Delta by Alysia Steele. Her interviews with the Church Women of the Delta area of Mississippi is a fascinating look at the oral history of a time before, during, and directly after the Civil Rights Movement. She entwines these stories with stories of her grandmother.

Reading her prompted me to return to my blog and to post the following:

A Letter to Alysia Steele on Grandmothers.


I love your book. I can only imagine how proud your grandmother is as she smiles down on you from above. I find myself remembering the days of Civil Rights and my very small involvement at the time. I was studying at the University of Minnesota, attended rallies, picketed the local Woolworths’s and collected money to aid the Freedom Riders. It humbles me to think of how very minute my efforts were when compared to those women of courage and faith.

I taught school for 34 years and never knew that black teachers in Mississippi had to struggle to gain the right to put Mrs. in front of their name. Ironically, at about the same time, I was fighting for the right to drop the title and use my first name. I was teaching in Topanga Canyon in Southern California. Many of my students were from communes with flower children parents and I was swept away with my own “Dawning of Aquarius”. I am sure the Church Mothers would be shaking their heads in disbelief at my reverse identity struggle.

I smiled when the Rev. Dr. Matthew recalled that Martin Luther King was an average student when both men were at Morehouse College. I briefly met Dr. King when he came to speak at the University of Minnesota at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I do not know what I was expecting – perhaps a superhuman being with a cape and all. He was not as tall as I thought he would be; he was quiet, well-mannered, and a little average. As a teacher, I would celebrate his birthday with my third and fourth graders. I always mentioned meeting Dr. King and how he seemed to be just an ordinary man who was doing extra-ordinary things and how his leadership changed our world for the good of all people.

I know you miss your grandmother. I understand how you long to hear her voice and how you wish you could say “I am sorry for all the stomping up the stairs and the eye-rolling.” (There must have been eye-rolling.) So I wrote the following with you in mind. I may not speak for your grandmother, but I believe my words and thoughts are pretty universal Nana-Speak.

What My Granddaughter Didn’t Know When I Was Busy Lecturing Her about Privacy Rights and Boundaries

There was a minor little incident when my delightful eight-year-old granddaughter visited me a few weeks ago. She was playing with my iPad, and I asked what she was doing.

“ I am changing the setting so I can get in easy.“ she announced.

“Oh no, you are not,” I answered, “An iPad is like someone’s purse. You ask permission before opening it, and you never change my settings.”

That was my message, and I wanted to get the lesson across. To her credit, she listened and hopefully was not crushed by the authority in my voice. Now here is the part she didn’t know. I was also secretly proud of her misplaced initiative, and her knowledge of technology. I call this a soul-tickle. Soul-tickling is a feeling of pride grandmothers keep to themselves. It is an amusement not often shared, and it is known to produce mild head-shaking and half-smiles on our faces.

So for all those grandmothers out there and those granddaughters who are listening. Please know three things. First we grandmothers know about stomping upstairs, and impatience, and obnoxious behavior. We may not always admit it, but a lot of our knowledge comes from personal experience. Second, our ability to forgive and forget the grievances of grandchildren nears saintliness, and last, but certainly not least, grandmothers understand soul-tickling better than anyone else. I suspect, Alysia, your antics soul-tickled your grandmother more than you will ever know.

5 comments to An Open Letter to Alysia Steele

  • What an incredible letter. I don’t think you know how much this touched me, as I think of my grandmother and her loving ways increasingly over the years. Yes, there was eye-rolling (and mumbling, if I’m truly honest – hahaha). Grandmothers help guide our hearts, mothers are so important too, but there is nothing like a grandmother. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for teaching your granddaughter a lesson. She will remember it, I promise.

  • Hi Kathy, I am glad you liked the post. I know how you loved your grandmother and the love and respect you have for her. Knowing you and your sister, I am sure you gave her more than one or two soul-tickles. Can you believe we both are now grandmothers. Where has the time gone? I think the best part about growing older is grandkids. Makes it all worthwhile.

  • Kathy Silva

    What a wonderful commentary on an aspect of grand-parenting that brought back a remembrance of my own. My paternal grandmother lived with us while I was growing up, and I can remember sashaying over to her, in the living room, somewhat annoyed to discuss, as usual, how my day at high school had gone. And how appreciative she always was, though she must have detected my “attitude.” The memories of our shared life through those many years are golden to me now. Yes, she qualifies for sainthood with me.

  • Thanks Mary. I have always appreciated your encouragement for my writing. Great talking with you the other day. Our desert is finally cooling a little and fall is in the air.

  • A delightful post and I can relate to it in many ways. We grandmothers are sometimes right on top of things but sometimes some important thing fall through the cracks. Thank you for a wake up call.

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