She — Lucille Mae Denniston Wilson Harrington — was more than the white great-grandmother who raised me. Generations United and the Grandfamilies & Kinship Support Network: A National Technical Assistance Center finally gave me the words to describe our unique relationship. We were a grandfamily.
Navigating life together was difficult enough because of our racial differences. Parenting doesn’t stop at providing food, drink, and shelter, which is no startling revelation. However, like many grandparents raising grandchildren, putting food on the table was challenging.
That reality forced her to swallow any pride. Food banks helped keep fed throughout my childhood. Grandma had to sacrifice and fight for me in so many ways.
She confronted family members struggling with racism. Grandma also fought for the medical care that yielded my hydrocephalus diagnosis. What’s hydrocephalus?
We’re all born with cerebrospinal fluid surrounding our brain and spinal column. In my case, fluid buildup caused my head to become gradually larger and led to five major surgeries. Her obstinate nature saved my life.
Being obstinate is a trait we share. It’s a trait many survivors share. And we — Grandma and me — are survivors. She survived cancer, domestic violence, gun violence, and the Great Depression before going to bat for me. Grandma’s profile in resilience has shaped me in so many ways.
She taught how to approach life as a Black gay man living in the United States. Grandma bequeathed a passion for fighting injustice. It was a passion to which she held tightly even amid Alzheimer’s Disease. She fought the homophobia in my childhood church.
But we didn’t just connect through adversity. We connected over words. Memories of SCRABBLE games fill my head. Don’t assume she cut 6-year-old me any slack. Playing first and spelling CRUISES — which used my seven letters and earned two bonuses — remains an indelible memory.
Grandma encouraged me to play with words by devouring nearly every news story this former daily newspaper reporter ever wrote. “I love you!” were the words I loved hearing her say most. She stopped saying, “I love you” in 2009.
Moments and memories of our life together have molded me in ways that can’t be fully articulated. Lucille’s first great-grandson will spend Grandparents Day meditating on those moments and memories.
And I’ll express my gratitude for being in a grandfamily. Being a grandfamily member has made my life one long intergenerational adventure. Our united generations enriched the relationship between Grandma and me in mysterious ways.
If you’ve been similarly blessed, spend Grandparents Day — well, how about every day — celebrating the gift that keeps giving.
About the Author
As Communications Specialist, Rev. Jason Carson Wilson, coordinates communications across Generations United. He brings nearly 20 years of communications experience. Rev. Jason gained that experience messaging for national faith-based advocacy organizations and serving as a journalist for small to medium newspapers throughout Illinois. He also produces freelance content for various publications and has done some podcasting. While Rev. Jason’s writing has primarily focused on policy, he’s chronicled his experience as a Grandfamily member. Rev. Jason, now an ordained United Church of Christ minister, was raised by his great-grandmother in Champaign County, Ill.