Edythe Booker Mason, 1918 – 2019
Who are we without her? Grandma was and is the heart of our family, and the hub of our family.
Aging isn’t for cowards, she’d say. A hundred and one year old body is going to decline and there’s a precipice at the end of that process. It’s the most natural of things, but it’s still brutal. Her passing wasn’t a surprise but it’s still a shock. It’s hard to believe she’s gone. She’s just always been there.
When the storm of the century is forecast to hit, knowing when and where it will land does absolutely nothing to lessen the damage. You just have the opportunity to take cover, steel yourself, and resign yourself to the fact that life will be different after it passes.
I lived on the same street my entire childhood. Three different addresses, and one of those addresses was at Grandma’s house. She was originally from Harrisburg, PA. I don’t know exactly when she moved to Turner Station. My mom and grandma live two doors apart. After my grandfather passed in 1984, I somehow ended up moving back in to Grandma’s house until I left for college.
In my pre-school days I remember being at her house in the afternoon while she handled the household and cooked dinner. Every weekday at 3pm she would call to me upstairs to let me know that “All in the Family” was on. That must have been around 1975 or ’76? One time I pretended to be asleep because a lot of times she would call me down to get something out of the back room pantry, or the sun porch. Then later I was like, “Why didn’t you tell me ‘All in the Family’ was on?”
“I called you but you didn’t answer.”
I was home sick from school at her house in middle school in 1981 when President Reagan was shot.
I was home sick at her house learning the guitar solo to Paul Young’s “Every Time You Go Away” to pass the time when the Challenger space shuttle disaster happened in 1986.
She would call upstairs and tell me to turn on the news. (Normally, I’d be watching PBS all day.)
Her house was homebase for all of her kids and grandkids like that. They could all tell you stories and reminisce.
Around 1996, she and my mother came out to visit me in the Bay Area, where I had moved after I graduated college. She would still tell the story of their attempt to drive up to Mt. Hamilton on some very twisty, windy, narrow roads. She said she was bracing herself on the car dashboard for dear life on the drive down. Grandma was a well-known side-seat driver so you know her foot was definitely pressing the imaginary passenger brakes.
Around 2006 she would tell the story of when she fell in the back room and couldn’t get up. (Leika, my dog, would stay at Grandma’s during the week and I would pick Leika up on the weekends and bring her home to Northern Virginia on the weekends.) No one could hear Grandma calling for them, but Leika came down and saw her on the floor. Leika left and a few minutes later came back with Aunt Drayde in tow.
In 2008, the family had a big 90th birthday bash. There were about fifty people there, and I thought, how many people have such a big social circle at 90 years old?
2014 or so, she asked me, out of nowhere, “Gary, when are you going to get married?”
“Uh. I don’t know, Grandma. I have to get a date first. I’ll let you know when I know, though.”
Last year, in 2018, we had a 100th birthday bash at the Sparrows Point Country Club. I got to play a few songs with my cousins for her. Her circle of friends and family was still going strong.
You experience a lot of loss yourself when you live for a century: Grandaddy, all of her brothers and sisters, cousins, many friends, two children, three grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.
I suppose you gain a lot of perspective over the years. She was born in 1918. She saw the electronic and information age revolutions. Radios, TVs, household appliances, automobiles, refrigerators, computers, moon landing, smartphones, jazz, Motown, rock and roll. She was born during World War I. She was a teenager during the Great Depression. She was in her late 20s when World War II started. She was 47 years old before black people were freely “allowed” to vote. Or should I say, before her right to vote was widely recognized.
She worked as a domestic worker for a white family for a while, as so many did. Somewhere and somehow, she went back to school to become a nurse. How and when, I don’t understand. How do you do that and have seven children??
I miss the days when she was able-bodied and independent. Walking down the alley to see Aunt Maude, her sister in law, with a stick to ward off any stray dogs. I miss her center of operations being in the kitchen, telephone ringing almost constantly. I do not miss taking her shopping because it took for.ev.er. But I do miss the food. I miss watching TV with her from back when she would watch the Lawrence Welk show to her laughing to tears watching Sanford & Son, or Good Times, or the Jeffersons.
Travel well, Grandma. I’m glad you don’t have to suffer anymore. I’m glad you weren’t alone at the end. I’m glad we had the privilege of having you in our lives for so long. We’re all better people because of you and we won’t be the same without you.
I could say so much more. Maybe I’ll add to this later. I’m sure I’ll learn a few things at the funeral.
Thank you to my mother, aunts, uncle, and cousin, who have provided round-the-clock care for Grandma for well over a decade now. You are the reason for her longevity, and more importantly, her quality of life up until her last breaths.