So My Grandmother Passed Away During Memorial Day weekend…
Beverly Gurley was born March 5, 1938 and passed on May 29, 2016. Grandma was a woman of God; queen of life; fashion model; pageant queen; lady of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; educator; wife to one husband; mother to two kids (one being my father); and mother-figure to countless young adults on the University of D.C. campus. She knew I loved her deeply, as do those who know me, but I never took the time to acknowledge how much I took after her until now.
Some of the best memories of Grandma are from the week before each Christmas that I would spend at her house on Kansas Ave. in Washington, D.C. My cousin Larry and I would help her decorate her Christmas tree, which would then stay up until Easter. I am pretty sure it had Valentine’s Day decorations at some point in time (lol).
It was during this time that she gave me my first cooking lesson, scrambled eggs with cheese. I was so proud of myself that I cooked eggs almost every day for six to seven years until I graduated from high school. I would think about her every time I cracked the eggshells, sure to not let a piece of the shell drop in the bowl or skillet. I wanted to cook like she cooked, like she taught my Aunt Tiffany to cook. Still do.
She would take me to work with her at UDC on some of those days leading up to Christmas and I would wander the halls of the buildings. Adults (possibly students who looked like adults to me at the time) would see me, an unaccompanied little girl with big fluffy ponytails held together with barrettes and say, “Where are you supposed to be?” As soon as I told them I was Beverly Gurley’s granddaughter, their faces would light up with a smile or they’d let out a big laugh, then oftentimes offer to show me around. I got into the locked chemistry labs and was given free food from the cafeteria plenty of times with a quick Grandma name drop. They would go back to her office and say, “I saw your granddaughter!” and she’d respond, “Did you hear her or see her first?” People loved her no matter where she went and had nothing but positive things to say about her. I wanted to have that same affect on people. Still do.
I remember going with her to get her cataracts removed and being supremely grossed out by the eye doctor going into her eye and removing this tiny vein looking thing, while she was awake! Then, I remember being nervous about her driving us home with these chunky black goggles on. I was 12-years-old offering to drive out of concern for our safety. She said, “Girl hush. I am fine.” I have done the same thing to people trying to look after me. Still do.
My Grandma was a classy lady, known for dressing “to the nines” and accessorizing “to a T.” As a former model and pageant queen, she always exhibited grace, charm and class. She tilted her head back when she laughed an infectious laugh that was uniquely hers and made you smile along with her. I vividly remember going through her old black and white photos that looked so glamorous, imagining what it would look like in full color. Vintage Black Glamour is what she was serving. She trained HBCU and pageant queens in this way. I loved it so much that when I became Miss North Carolina A&T State University (which she was ecstatic about), I wanted to evoke that same image, too. I still do.
My Grandmother played a part in my decision to attend A&T. When I told her it was my final decision, she told me to go see her soror, who was the dean of students at the time, Dr. Judy Rashid. I remember the day I stood outside Dr. Rashid’s office. She was not there, but when I turned to walk away, she was coming down the hall. I introduced myself and told her my Grandmother Beverly Gurley told me I should come see her. From that day, Dr. Rashid has served as my Aggie grandmother away from home. I took her class; she advised our court when I was Miss Sophomore; she was a great supporter when I ran for Miss A&T; and she and Grandma Beverly were reunited at my college graduation dinner, a moment I will forever cherish, having the two of them at the same table with me. My grandmother saw God and wisdom in others, and knew how they could use their talents to serve other people. I wanted to do that. I have done it before. I still do.
My Grandma genuinely cared for others. After her passing, I learned about how she and my granddaddy paid for a woman’s mortgage for countless months so that she and her children could stay in their home. Her garbage man was a former student at UDC, and somehow, for two whole years, he did not have to pay for tuition or housing; grandma had it taken care of…somehow. These stories made me burst with tears because these are the types of things I want to be able to do for my mentees, students and loved ones. When I was teaching in New Orleans, I would do whatever I could to ensure my students’ well being, just like my grandma did for hers. I still do.
The craziest thought as I write this, with tear stained cheeks, is that I did not do any of this consciously. The parallels of her phenomenal life being shown in my own were 100% subconscious. She influenced me by example. She never had to dictate to me what to do. It was instilled in me…without force…due to her influence.
My Grandma was 78 years old when she passed. The number 7 is known as the number of completion, and she lived a year past 77. That is because she lived a more than complete life. She blessed others when she could. She loved God with all her heart and spread that love to her children, grandchildren and others she encountered. She loved people the way God instructed us to do so and I choose to believe that is why He showed her grace and mercy by allowing her to pass in her sleep. No one in the family had a chance to say good-bye to her, but if we did, that would have meant she was suffering and knew her time was coming. I would never want her to suffer one bit, so for her going home peacefully, I am still so so very grateful. Glory to God.
I will miss her incredibly, but I have to remind myself not to be selfish right now. My granddaddy Leon passed in 1996. According to my parents, he was my favorite person at that point in my life, and they were each other’s favorite people. This November would have made 20 years since he passed, but on Sunday, God reunited them. I know when they saw each other in heaven, they both ran full force with their new, healthy, heavenly bodies toward each other, embraced…and probably started dancing together. They are a love story and it brings me joy to know they are together again with God at peace.
So what do I do now? I continue doing what I have been doing. It is very obvious that she has been in and with me all of this time. And now I have one more person on my side watching over me.
Grandma, in your words, “you did your thing” down here.
I hope to make you proud while I continue to do mine.
I love you forever.