Grandma Lucile was important to my upbringing. She was my Dad's step-mom, and she inspected every report card, analyzed and corrected my grammar, and pushed me to do my best. She and Grandpa Buck lived in Kentucky, and, after Grandpa passed, Dad, Mom and I would make a trip every week or so to help care for her multi-acre lawn. In turn she would treat us to a home-cooked meal.
As time went on, she wasn't always able to cook. (We were clued in to this when she confused some ingredients on dessert, creating, instead of a chocolate cream pie, an inedible cinnamon cream pie which I still ate, just to be polite.) Her vision wasn't the worst though. Her hearing had deteriorated, and she compensated by bellowing so that she could hear herself. This was harmless for the most part unless you had the misfortune of watching television with her. She had developed a habit of arguing the television. Particularly with newscasters.
After finishing the lawn one hot August day, we had all showered and loaded into her navy blue Oldsmobile Omega to go to Sizzler. This was back when Sizzler was a relatively new chain of decent quality. For a single price, one could get all "all you can eat".
We had all just sat down with salads, assorted meats, and vegetables and were ready to eat. Before we could start though, Grandma had to call attention to something for the rest of us. In what she regarded as a whisper but would be clearly audible to any tables around us, she pointed at another diner. I remember her words to this day.
"Well, would you just look at that nigger. She's got enough food there for three people. She's gonna be one fat nigger if she keeps being so greedy."
The black woman kept Grandma's attention throughout the meal. Luckily she was out of earshot, and we were in a corner not near other diners. Dad, Mom and I ate quickly that day. Grandma was surprised by our decision to skip out on dessert. It was our last dinner out with her. Mom would instead cook, despite Grandma Lucile's harsh criticism of her culinary ability.
Grandma Lucile was a product of segregationist times. She new no black people and didn't want to know any. If one were on the television, she wouldn't argue with them; she'd change the channel. To her "nigger" was as common a word as "man" or "woman". Although my parents had no black friends, they did have coworkers and other regular reactions with people of other pigmentations and eye colors other than our shared blue.
Two generations later, I don't really think about race that much. "Some of my closest friends are black" is more than just a statement; it's the truth. (This being a statement I can't make without thinking of Devin.)
So progress has been made. Race isn't a dead issue, and it probably never will be. Whenever I do think about it though, I'll always think about Grandma and the world in which she lived. It was a world far different than mine. I thank Dr. King for that. I thank him immensely.