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She took baths in water so hot you could poach a salmon in it. The steam rose from the tub in big clouds, like from a cartoon cauldron.

“You’re gonna get in that tub?” I asked. “The water is smoking.”

“Yes, child, that’s how a bath is supposed to be,” Gram assured me. I watched her ease into the scalding bath, and then she did the unthinkable.

“Hand me the bleach, gal.”

“What?”

“Hand me the bleach.”

“You’re going to put bleach in your bath water, Grandma? That’s poison.”

“It’s the good kind of poison. Now hand me the bleach.”

Who was I to tell Gram no? I watched in amazement as she poured two capfuls of bleach into the boiling water. She lay back and shut her eyes.

Years later, with wide eyes and mouth agape, I told my mother what I had witnessed.

My mother said, “Yeah, that’s how some women did it back then.”

I said to myself, “Well, holy shit.”

∗ ∗ ∗

While my mom was out making business deals, I was at Gram’s, learning what would one day become my life’s work. I’d wake up to the smell of bacon frying in her kitchen. Even if you don’t do breakfast, the smell of bacon frying makes you want to. I’d walk into the kitchen in all my morning glory: T-shirt, Wonder Woman Underoos. I’d sit across from Gram, in front of a hot plate — there was bacon, grits, and the gravy from a smothered-chicken dish Gram had made the night before, plus my favorite accompaniment, a cup of Maxwell House coffee, lots of cream, lots of sugar.

Now, my mother would forbid such a drink for a seven-year-old; Gram, however, was my mother’s mother, so I got that cup of coffee every time. Then it would begin, a symphony of sips, forks scraping the plates, spoons rattling inside of coffee mugs or mason jars. I’d look up at my Gram with wonderment, and she’d say, “Eat, gal.”

In that moment, I knew I was loved.

Gram spent days in her kitchen during the holidays, blending, mixing, and kneading. She had all the focus of a brain surgeon. She would not take a break. She wouldn’t even sit down until everything was complete.

With no culinary training — no concept of brunoise over small dice, or cross-contamination — she had not only her friends and family running to her dining table, but all the neighbors, and the community, too.

Like waving some kind of gastronomic magic wand, people appeared on her doorstep: family you hadn’t seen all year, friends you hadn’t seen in months. They’d gather on the front porch, laughing and smiling, waiting to come inside. Then they’d step into all kinds of sweet and savory smells. They’d look with wonderment at the spread laid out before them. They’d know they were loved. That was the kind of power my grandmother had.

As a little girl with no brothers or sisters and a busy mom, I often felt alone. I’d say to myself, If I could cook like Gram, I’d always have the people I care about around me. When we are bound by food, we are also bound with love and laughter.

I would eventually study culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, many years after my grandmother’s death.

But it was Gram who taught me to cook — I am one hell of a chef because of Gram’s lessons. But she also taught me to be proud. She taught me to be fearless. I carried those lessons with me and practiced them throughout Gram’s life. I still do today, and they have served me well. I, too, have sometimes relied on the kindness of strangers, and they have depended on my kindness.

Anytime I’m home, and my friends or family know I’m cooking, people appear at my doorstep like magic. They step inside, look at the spread laid out before them, and know they are loved. I spread love with my gourmet butter, flavors as diverse as San Diego. I prepare it at home, and also as part of my new job as a chef.

People say, “Oh, this is dangerous.” Then they eat it and forget it’s butter.

∗ ∗ ∗

“Can I have some gum, Gram?” I’d ask.

“Yeah,” she’d say, pulling a wilted pack from her bosom.

She was what black folks called “light-skinned.” But her sisters Katherine and Ethel and her brother Ezra Junior were a lot lighter than she was. I remember meeting them for the first time in South Carolina, surprised by how high-yellow they were. Ethel even had bluish-green eyes.

Ezra Cannon Senior was Gram’s father. He was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. “Oh, yes, he was a light thing, with yellows and reds in his complexion,” Aunt Ethel said. “Hell, he was so pretty, he looked like a woman. If you saw him now, you’d think he had a little sugar in his tank.”

Was my great-grandfather a gay man and still married to my great-grandmother? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened in the anti-gay South.

Gay or straight, my great-grandfather was no sissy.

As the story goes, sometime in the 1920s, Great-grandpa took a disliking to a certain white man who trespassed on his property. Ezra Senior didn’t appreciate how the man was staring at his daughters. He told the man to get off his land, but the man refused to leave. A fight began. Ezra drew his pistol, and the white man left. He never came back again. After that day, Great-grandpa kept his gun close.

As I became more educated about African-American history, my family made more sense to me. Many slave-owners raped their black women, and the women had Massa’s babies.

My mother has several university degrees. She’s never missed an opportunity to school me on issues she deems relevant.

“Mom, can I ax you something,” I’d say.

“No, you can’t ax me anything, but you can ask me.”

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Comments

Evelyn June 6, 2012 @ 3:04 p.m.

the adrenaline surges sound like ptsd. what you witnessed and endured and did is traumatic.

also, thank you for doing the right thing. and thank you for standing up for Rose, those in need.

... Regardless of how urban and trendy and hip and whathaveyou Hillcrest may be, there are a ton of shady activities that go on. i've been more spooked/creeped out there than anywhere else.

1

clockerbob June 6, 2012 @ 5:44 p.m.

I was robbed on a MTS bus in Hillcrest and when I asked the MTS for the security tape to id robber I was told they don't use the security tape for that purpose.

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Javajoe25 June 6, 2012 @ 7:11 p.m.

Hillcrest is one of the most colorful, interesting, culturally hip neighborhoods in San Diego....but it is also the biggest rolling freak show as well. Not sure what it is; probably the concentration of mental health facilities in the area, combined with the excessive alcohol intake of the resident population and the high drama that produces, and then there's the availability of street drugs which tend to go hand in hand with the high number of clubs. All that adds up to a very tempting set of circumstances for the mean nasties who come to prey on the vulnerable. There's no bout adout it; it can get pretty dicey, late at night, on the streets of Hillcrest.

1

nan shartel June 6, 2012 @ 7:26 p.m.

great storytelling..good on ya that u helped Rose...best stuff i've read here at the REader lately

and ur grams was def a very cool lady!!!

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Jay Allen Sanford June 7, 2012 @ 12:31 a.m.

Second that! I was just going to browse, but was compelled to read all the way thru -

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AmyBeddows June 7, 2012 @ 9:58 a.m.

The world needs more people like you in it!!

1

prattleonboyo June 7, 2012 @ 4:41 p.m.

I liked the part about intercepting the assailant from further attacking the woman in the street. Should have elaborated on all that further. Otherwise, nice writing!

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Ruth Newell June 7, 2012 @ 8:29 p.m.

Rashida, you are an honorable woman of incredible strength as well as a superb storyteller. Stories like this one are hard ones to tell but it is none-the-less important that they be told. It shouldn't take courage to protect each other from violence--that should be a natural human inclination. But, obviously, as you were the only one to bother to intercede, the only one who said to herself, "No, I can't stand by and watch this happen.--I WON'T do nothing, this is wrong," it mustn't be--not to everyone at least. We as a society haven't evolved as far as we think we have.I remember all too clearly how appalled I felt when I learned a whole barfull of men sat back and watched, cheered even, while Cheryl Araujo was gang raped on a pool table back in the '80's, (basis for the movie The Accused). The '09 gang rape of a fifteen year old CA girl right outside her prom resurrected those same feelings because dozens of people stood by and watched. FOR HOURS. Taking photos with their cell phones rather than calling the police. Yet, there is no law that requires us to protect and assist one another in times like this. No law even requiring bystanders to report the crime they are witnessing. LEGALLY, they did nothing wrong--hard factoid to wrap my head around. Blows my mind that we think we are an advanced "developed' species. I have the utmost respect for you.Thank you for writing this article and thank you Reader for publishing it front and center.

1

alisonchains June 8, 2012 @ 11:56 a.m.

You are my hero!!! I, too, have stepped in between a victim and attacker, but not nearly so dramatic with life-altering consequences (court appearances, etc). If I AM faced with such a situation, I hope I can reach back to your amazing example for strength to do the right thing. Blessings upon you!!!

Plus--GREAT WRITING!!

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Facebook June 9, 2012 @ 10:13 a.m.

John P. says: Good thing Rose went to court. I witnessed a woman get knocked out in El Cajon. Myself, and a few others chased the guy and made sure he got arrested. When the woman came to, she immediately started crying and defending him.

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Ruth Newell June 9, 2012 @ 12:55 p.m.

Makes me think of workplace sexual harassment. Most organization's policy obliges witnesses of sexual harassment towards another to report it. Even if the victim doesn't. Sexual Harassment policies ten to hold us ALL accountable in ensuring that the workplace is free from such offenses. Not so easy in cases of domestic violence, regrettably.

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