I can never quite recall when he started calling me that nickname that only he used.
If I walked into the door, he said his hellos to everyone else, then a grin would spread across his face as he greeted me using the name only he used.
Looking back at it all as an adult, I now understand why I had this name from him. My grandmother and I were more alike than I ever realized. As a kid, I saw her as this proper lady – not overly prim and proper, but she always smelled of roses, her hair was always done, and she was always dressed nicely. I did not, until after she was gone, understand what a snarky young woman she was. My grandpa has a nickname for her that only he used and continued to use after her death.
My grandpa met her after a baseball game. His team was playing her hometown’s team. He was catching. And she sat with her friend, behind home plate, and heckled him the entire night. He decided after that he had to meet this woman. I heard other stories too. How she called her father, the town chief of police, out about his involvement with the local KKK – demanding he stop. (He did.) How she threw her father-in-law out her house when he started making racist comments. “You gonna let your woman talk to me like that?” he asked his son. “Yes, sir, I am,” was my grandpa’s response.
I knew she had fire.
Then a few months ago, I found old photos of my grandma. She was about DJ’s age in them – 17. I laughed, I cried, I scanned them in, I sent them to my dad, and we laughed and cried again.
My favorite is still her sitting on a blanket holding 2 carpet swatters with a mischievous grin.
It is not hyperbole to say that I saw myself in her. Though, to be fair, I should mention that I look just like my grandma especially when she was young. My grandpa always saw this – even when I did not – and it was like he acknowledged it through giving me a special name too.
A few days ago, I stopped at a Starbucks to grab a coffee. I was running errands and decided I needed that second coffee after all. I gave the person my name, then went to browse on my phone until it was ready.
They called everyone else’s name first as I had expected, then I heard the nickname that my grandpa always called me.
It took me totally by surprise.
It is not a common name or even common nickname. I glanced around quickly upon hearing it – wondering if maybe there was someone with that name.
“Oh, sorry – I mean ‘Emmy’,” the barista corrected.
My grandpa died 26 years ago this month. In fact, looking at the day this happened, it was 26 years ago on that day.
I can’t help but feel that he was reaching out, beyond the veil, just to say hi.
Just to remind me that he may have passed, but he was not gone – even after all of these years.