Dear Annette: A Love Letter to My Grandmother and the Books That Raised Me

Dear Annette,

As I write this to you, my mind returns to my childhood. The best mornings began with making mud pies that I would leave to bake under the Louisiana sun and evenings were spent pulling honeysuckle from trees. There were other days I wish I could forget. But there’s one day and one conversation with you that I most remember.

We sat outside in secondhand lawn chairs that’d been beaten by the rain. The sun had mercy on us as you shared dreams of being a country music singer and owning a restaurant. You told me how your dreams slipped between your fingers — the worn fingers of a mother connected to hands that once belonged to a wife and young woman. As I saw the pain in your face, I finally understood a look I’d seen so many times before. Your expressions of disapproval had been misread. It was never disapproval, you were seeing me before I could clearly see myself.

You were more than Grandma. You were Annette.

On this same day, you took your usual trip with my mom to garage sales and thrift stores and returned with a stack of fiction books.

I’ll admit I was disappointed at first because I was hoping for toys, but after flipping the first page, hours felt like minutes. The desire to eat or sleep took a backseat. All I wanted was to read the adventures, the chaos, and the magic. I needed to know these characters and exist in their worlds. One page turned to countless books.

I started waiting for the days you would go garage sailing, sitting on my hands and staring out of the window to see what books you would return with and you never disappointed. Aging alongside me, every book you brought home helped to raise a girl into a woman.

Annette, I am blessed to be a product of my environment because I am a product of what happens when you give a black girl a book and not much else. You taught me what oppression meant, but showed me I am not oppressed.

My joyous existence riots for you every day. I am often short with the words I speak because I’m convinced that the less I say, the more words I’ll have to write down. I need those words because I’m writing my own story now.

I am the author, the narrative voice, and the reader. I don’t know the full plot, but I have the outline so I free write in pencil, redefining my story in accordance with what the universe deems fit. There are eraser stains and scratched out words all over my pages — written history of the many things I’ve tried and failed. But, because of you, I never regret the effort.

You taught me it was better to marry an idea and divorce it with failure than to go to bed with regret.

A few months ago, I ran into a friend of yours. She stopped me as I was walking away and said, “I know Annette is so proud of you.” I’d like to believe you are proud of me, too.

I spoke my last words to you when I was 15 years young, heading off on vacation when I said, “I’ll see you later.” For so long, I’ve regretted that moment, but I don’t anymore. Later has arrived. Now, I see you every time I look in the mirror.

I see you in every book I read and every word I write.

You are the breeze that rustles the magnolia trees and the scent of an endless ocean, carrying waves that gently push the sands towards the Louisiana Coast.

I am the woman who writes now. Hoping my stories will fall into the hands of another little black girl, and eventually arrive at your door.

Forever and always,

Princella

Unlisted

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Princella Talley

Princella Talley

Top Writer in Feminism. Public Voices fellow of the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.