December 18, 2020
A Place to Call Home
By Norris Frederick
As Christmas approached in 1945, my parents were having trouble making ends meet and would soon have no place to live. Like Mary and Joseph, they needed someone to house them and their children for a while. My grandparents offered to be my family’s innkeepers. Recently I gave some financial help to a woman whose family is struggling due to coronavirus layoffs. A question wandered into my mind: why did I offer to help this person? I could think of some good theories about why and who we should help, but a better answer popped into my mind: it’s because of my mother who – even with very limited resources of her own – did the same thing. I’d not thought of that in a long time. A little later I wondered, why did my mother help others? Because of her parents, Bright and Jesse Lee Hoyle, my grandparents whom I knew as “Gannie” and “Ba-poo. And I knew their love and generosity first-hand. That “temporary” stay with my grandparents turned into something permanent. By the time my brother Charlie and I were born, there were eight people – my parents, the four of us children, and my grandparents — living in that small house, with one bathroom. We lived there for the rest of my grandparents’ lives.
My memory of Ba-poo is of the smell of his pipe and the sight of him listening to baseball games on a huge radio that sat on the floor, and of sometimes having the delight of sitting in his lap while he listened. I still have his pocket-sized New Testament, which still smells faintly of his tobacco. He died when I was six, and my grandmother lived for another seven years after his death. I remember Gannie as a very smart woman who laughed a lot, cooked wonderfully, wrote poetry, and gave much love to the grandchildren. She was a school teacher for a while and later taught Sunday School at First Methodist in Charlotte. When we got our first television, the favorite show for my brother and me was championship wrestling, with wrestlers like George Becker (good guy) and The Great Bolo (baddest of the bad guys). My grandmother would sometimes walk through the room as we were watching wrestling, say that it was a ridiculous fake, and before long would be sitting down and booing and cheering with us.
A few years ago, my sister Virginia said something that startled me in its truthfulness. Our grandparents sacrificed a lot for us. In their 60s, they could see a time when they no longer had to work so hard and could enjoy a quieter and easier life. They could envision enjoying their 19 grandchildren a couple of hours at a time, and then returning them to their parents. That truth hit me right between the eyes. They were helping hands for us, to be sure. I cannot imagine what we would have done without them. They, and we, attended a church that meant much to us, and at least the adults listened to the sermons. We knew of the Christian vision of love, but it became real for us because we saw it from our grandparents and parents. Even though they gave up a lot for us, they never gave us a sense we were a burden: they gave us the sense of being loved. I am eternally grateful. We were so very fortunate. “Go and do likewise.” We all need to help bring about a world where no one goes hungry, where all children experience love, where everyone has a place to call home.