If You Love Me, Say It

October, 1976.  I was handed the telephone and listened closely to my father’s words on the other end.

“I’m going to put you on the phone with your grandmother.  She can’t talk to you, but she can hear you.  Don’t take long because your brothers need to talk, too.  Got it?”

“Yes, sir” I answer as my heart raced.  I tried to figure out what I was going to say to Grandma.  My sister had already spoken to her and said some very beautiful things in a very short time.

“Here she is.”

There was a slightly muffled sound of phone movement and transmitter-against-skin as I heard the distant voice of my father, telling me to go ahead.  Grandma had been paralyzed by a serious stroke and I knew her time left on earth was uncertain.  Dad held the phone against her ear in the hospital.

“Grandma,” I tearfully began as I reached clumsily and desperately for words, “I love you, Grandma.  I’m sorry for everything bad that I did at your house.  I love you, Grandma.  I-, I-, I-, I promise to be good, Grandma.  I love you, Grandma!  I hope you get better and can leave that hospital soon, Grandma.  I promise not to steal any more biscuits before dinner, Grandma!  I love you, Grandma!  I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, GRANDMAAAA!  I-“

“Put Terry on the phone,” my father interrupted.

And that was it.  A matter of seconds given to sum up everything that I felt about her.  Everything I appreciated about her.  Everything I assured her I would become in life.  My final moments with her.  No one said that it would be my final words to her, but somehow, I felt it.  I remember that conversation as if it just happened yesterday.

A few days later, I saw my father pacing up and down the hallway, snapping his fingers on his right hand.  Hard.  His lips, firmly pressed together as he shook his head in what I deciphered to be a combination of anger and sorrow.  Then I knew…

Lilliard B. Davis – Mother Davis – Grandma, was gone. 

No more suffocating, loving hugs that smelled like old pantyhose and dish washing detergent.  No more 15-block walks from 138th & Alder to 139th & Carey Street.  No more stops at Cole’s or Kat’s store for Twinkies and other penny candy.  No more waving at my Cousin Curly Davis  on the corner of 139th and Drummond along the way.  No more of those delicious biscuits.  Oh my God, those delightful biscuits (Sadly, she took that recipe with her.  All anyone knew was that she used a LOT of lard, as she did with a lot of her creations.  I guess that strongly contributed to her health condition being anything but surprising).

Grandma was gone…

I was devastated!  All of the things that I wanted to say.   Not ONE of them came to my 8-year-old mind when it mattered most!  Then I thought about all of the times I spent at her house, helping her cook or clean, intently listening to her talk about any and everything.  Getting whooped with a fly swatter, leather belt or extension cord for doing everything I wasn’t supposed to do and half of what I was SUPPOSED to.  Sure, I’d told her that I loved her many times, but I still wish now, 43 years later, that I had told her just how much.  I know she knew, but I wish she had heard it from my own two lips.

I was a little kid then and it’s understandable.  But the lesson was not lost on me.  I spent every year after, telling everyone what and how I felt about them, every opportunity that I had.  I kissed my kindergarten teacher and told her before Christmas break (made her cry, unexpectedly).  I told teachers during the school year and before going on to the next grade.  I told my Sunday school teachers, choir director and pastor.  I told my classmates over the years and on stage during our final Senior Class Weekly Meeting before graduation.  I’ve told co-workers, relatives, neighbors, friends, customers (in and appropriate and professional manner), you name it.  There are few people in my life that don’t know how much I love and appreciate them.

I think where I fell short was when it came to my heart.  Romance.  There were quite a few girls that I failed to inform along the way in grade school, high school and especially college.  My insecurity and low self-esteem kept me from asking girls out or at least, telling them how I TRULY felt about them for fear of ridicule.  When I did, it was too late.  It cost me a high school prom date, a few possible girlfriends and yes, some epic neighbor-waking sex!  Hey, this is MY blog.  It’s family-oriented, but it’s gonna tell the truth.

Admittedly, one of the reasons I’m writing this is because I had a conversation with an old co-worker a few months ago who told me that if things didn’t work out with my wife, she’d love a chance to be with me someday.  WOW!  Not only had she been attracted to me when we worked together, but she told me her cousin (who worked with us) was trying to flirt and get my attention as well.  She also told me that several of the girls at this job were crazy about me (over 10 years ago).  Not that I could or would have done anything about it, but man, the things you learn. 

I guess this is a good time to segue into the following message: 
You should only tell people what you really feel about them when it’s appropriate.

For those of you that don’t miss a moment to tell people that they matter, thank you!  If you have subordinates at work and tell them how much you appreciate their performance, AWESOME!  For those of you that tell your children how much you cherish them, FANTASTIC!  Kids, you too. Tell your parents.  For those of you that have spoken at funerals, written tributes or given your love and testimonies about the dearly departed on social media, God bless you.  There is nothing more meaningful than the kind words we offer about those we will never see again in this life.  But I ask you to consider my closing story and message heavily…

One of my favorite “Good Times” episodes is S5 E11 – “Requiem For A Wino”  (that’s the YouTube link to the full episode).  In it, Fishbone the Wino (played by Robert Guillaume) is mistaken for someone that is killed in a car accident and left unrecognizable (the deceased stole his wallet).  The neighborhood holds a powerfully moving funeral for him and he is eventually discovered in the pews among them, lamenting louder than the remainder of the congregation, disguised as a grieving female in black.  Enraged at his deception, the attendants surround and berate him for his insensitivity, to which he loudly interrupts:

“Now just back off everybody!  Now what is this all about anyway? Love, right? That’s what J.J. just got through preaching, about telling somebody that you love him before it’s too late!  So TELL me!  I was good enough for you when I’m DEAD, now I’m alive!  I’m here, so TELL me you LOVE me!!”

“Fishbone” (Guillaume) and JJ (Jimmie Walker) in Good Times.

Imagine how uplifting it would be if we could hear the words while we’re still alive.  A posthumous award/ceremony is wonderful, but the recipient does not benefit from it.  All of the beautiful thoughts that we share would go so much further if the person were blessed with and by them, when they can feel your heart expressing them.  When they can hear the words and look into your eyes as you deliver them. 

So don’t wait until I’m gone.  Don’t tell the world how much it hurts and how much you can’t stop crying (if at all).  Don’t come to my social media page every year on my birthday and post that you still miss me.  Tell me now.  TELL me you LOVE me!!

I’m not looking for love or fishing for any compliments. I’m speaking on behalf of everyone, including you.  I just feel that we’ll be so much better in the long run when we all know what’s up.  Like the phrase goes: “Why don’t you tell me how you REALLY feel?”

Because, as you should know by know, I’m damn sure going to tell YOU…

…and oh yes, I LOVE YOU!!

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