Love is Bridging the Gulf

African proverb

My grandmother was a darker smaller version of my mum. Parents do not resemble their children. It is the other way round, but that is how I keep my memory of her alive—in my mother’s strong arms, I see hers, ready to cradle the world. My mother tells me she was the daughter of a prince, who thought it a waste of time for her to acquire formal education and that she ran away from her first marriage due to harsh treatment from her husband.

She was kind. She only spoke her dialect and Pidgin English. I could neither speak nor understand her dialect. Her pidgin was the Warri-Sapele variety, which was difficult for me to understand and I barely spoke pidgin. Her eyes told me she had more to say than the little she did. She must have felt even more frustrated than I did; harbouring experience she could not transfer.

The conversations we managed to have, centred on her concerns that I could not speak her dialect. She would ask worry etched on her face, about what I would do when the war starts. I had heard about the Nigerian Civil War just as I had heard of World War 1 and 2, events in history, far from my reality. In her broken English, she would tell me how soldiers used language to determine if you were on the Nigerian or Biafran side. Those who could not speak their language were at the mercy of the soldiers.

Her stories did not motivate me to learn her dialect. I asked my parents where they had been during the war. “In Lagos,” my mum and dad answered respectively, and I filled in the blanks, “far from the war.” It showed in the priorities my parents chose for my life.

But those who have seen war speak of it with tremor in their voice. Does memory not erase the boom boom of falling bombs or the tikatikatikatika of machine gun rounds?

One time, she came to my university campus. Armed with my name and address she left her home in Sapele to visit me. When the driver who brought her came to call me, I hurried outside not believing. I met her smiling, and I loved her for taking a chance that she would find her eighteen-year old granddaughter in school on a Saturday evening.

“I bring fish for you,” she said, holding out some plastic bags.

Back at my apartment, we unpacked fish, plantain, spices, palm oil, yam, pepper. How could I tell her that I did not cook; did not really know how, especially did not know what to do with smoked fish and palm oil? That the gas cooker in my kitchen sat bemoaning its uselessness. That I nodded and said, “Mmm mmm,” to my mother whenever at the beginning of a new semester she admonished me not to set the kitchen on fire. That I was liable to throw the fish away because it ‘smelled’ and would go bad under my watch.

I thanked her instead. I did not want her to ask me what I would do when war broke out and I could not cook.

We sat in my room. She sipped a soft drink because I had nothing else to offer and because she said, “No, no,” when I wanted to go out and buy food. The silence made me restless and I longed to fill it, but you can only ask, “How your body? Home people? Sapele?” once.

She seemed content to look at me. Maybe I reminded her of her daughter. After a long time in which I started feeling uncomfortable and wished she would go before my friends came along, she broached the subject of language and war.

I let my silence speak for me.

After she lost her vitality, she came to live with us. Sometimes she would talk to no one in particular; it was no longer surprising to find her in her room alone, chatting. My mother made sure she was always within eye view because she could wander off into the sunset, her legs possessing an agility incongruent with the rest of her. By then, I was hardly home and when I was, I retreated to my world of youthful infallibility, busy with things I have no recollection of.

When she died, I felt the general sorrow, which accompanies loss of human life, and the particular sorrow that haunts a child who watches her mother grieve.

I am thinking of my grandmother because as I embark on a new series on motherhood and invite people to tell their stories, I wonder about the blank spaces in her life, which I cannot fill. I realize I did not do enough to bridge the gulf between us; there are languages other than pidgin and her dialect. My active presence is a language I denied her.


In loving memory of Princess Ajoritse-Debi Atsemudiara Etchie.


©Timi Yeseibo 2016


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43 thoughts on “Love is Bridging the Gulf

  1. Thankyou; this was very touching. My wife’s parents, until recently, had lived with us for some 8 years. It was both a blessing, and very difficult as time went on. We wanted our children to live intergenerational, but as their age and pains grew, we became less able to handle theirs along with our own concerns, etc. Memories with aging relatives tend to be mixed bittersweet with regret and goodness. I appreciate how you took time to recollect and just simmer with the memories. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “It was both a blessing, and very difficult as time went on. … Memories with aging relatives tend to be mixed bittersweet with regret and goodness.”

      I agree, there are practical matters that need to be handled in some cases. If I am making the right deductions, then at least your kids got to know their grandparents some.

      Thank you for sharing.


  2. I was lucky enough to know my grand parents and my great grand parents before they died. Knowing them and interacting with them enriched my life to be sure. I now have five grand children of my own. They are the reason I moved back home to Kentucky but sad to say I don’t see them all that much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think a lot of us regret not having cared to draw near our grandparents and enter their world when we had the chance. Unfortunately, the value of connecting with the older generations is something we apparently understand later in life. That was so sweet – and bold – of her to visit you with the food.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Timi.

    I admire how you write heartfelt pieces in a way that’s subtly detached yet firmly attached to you at the hip. 🙂

    I am always saddened by the opportunities that death denies us. How the loss of a person opens our eyes to the things we could/would/should have said or done and how we might have tried to be more for them.

    Your story reminds me of mine. My grandma passed away 2 years ago, we had phone conversations limited by language, few sentences pregnant with love nonetheless. Mine in a regretful smattering of igbo asking how she was doing, hers were mostly prayers for me.

    When she passed on, I wished I’d spent more time with her, there are things about her that I still wish I knew.

    My mother’s raw grief surprised me, I didn’t expect it to be as intense as it was. I’d assumed that because my grandma was very old, the pain would be bearable.

    It was then that I realised that I’d mostly seen my mother from the perspective of being “mummy” to me, but she was actually also someone else’s child and they had a relationship that had now ended forever.

    This understanding made me quite fearful of the gaping hole that would appear in my life when my own mother leaves.

    Thank you for sharing this, have a lovely weekend.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m happy to hear that the sentences you shared with your grandmother were pregnant with love.

      @ My mother’s raw grief surprised me, I share your sentiments. Our parents are somebody’s kids, but we don’t always see that aspect. I enjoyed reading the way you broke it down.

      Death denies us certain opportunities like you said. It doesn’t often announce its appearing. All the more reason to live circumspectly.

      Thanks Nedu for your compliment on my writing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My mum still grieve her mother who died years before I was born. I have learnt quite alot about my grandmum from the snippet of stories I gathered. It’s quite intriguing to me , someone i never met who still touched lives decades after her death but I guess life connects us in unimaginable ways.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I retreated to my world of youthful infallibility,
    busy with things I have no recollection of

    This sadly describes my relationship with my grandma. Something I’ve recently had a desire to change, seeing she’s still alive.
    This touched me deeply…Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Why does this write up make me feel like I know your her, oh I get, it’s bcos timi write it and her words are pictures and this time it’s having effects on the human feelings as you read. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I knew my maternal grandmother better than any of my other grandparents, Timi. She was a bright, well read woman who could carry on an easy conversation with me. I was lucky. One of my fondest memories as a child was that she would cook a wonderful strawberry shortcake from scratch and then insist we eat it before dinner. But even with the advantage of language, I never discussed her life with her… where she grew up, what she liked to do as a child, what her parents and grandparents were like, etc. We lose so much. –Curt

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You were lucky indeed. I guess it did not occur to either of you to discuss her life.

      These days, I find myself asking my parents about their childhood, etc, and I’m getting to know them better by understanding the influences that shaped them.

      “The history of the world is not complete until it includes yours.” – LaRae Kerr

      We should tell our stories, even if no one asks. That’s what I’m taking away from your comment. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think we have to reach a certain age before we want to learn about our parents and grandparents history. All, too often, it is too late, Timi. What I learned from my dad was precious. It was too late for my mother. And my grandparents, a fact which I have come to regret. One thing about writers, we do leave a trail… 🙂 –Curt

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I only knew my maternal grandmother and she was Life! She passed 4 years ago and reading this reminded me of her. She told tales of war often too..her son who went off to the war and was never seen, surviving the war in the mangrove etc. She was a library all by herself. We had great bonding. I couldn’t speak the language either, but pidgin held us.

    Love the last sentence.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow, she was a library all by herself… what a gift! I imagine your grandmother and think of this…

      “You are our living link to the past. Tell your grandchildren the story of the struggles waged, at home and abroad. Of sacrifices made for freedom’s sake. And tell them your own story as well — because [everybody] has a story to tell.” – George Bush

      @last sentence, thanks. I like your words, “. . . but pidgin held us.”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. How wonderful that your grandmother came to visit you in college. I only knew one grandmother and she was the world to me. I wish I’d spent more time asking questions about my grandfather, who passed when I was two-years old. Sadly, my mother isn’t able to piece together much of her past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And how wonderful that your grandmother held a special place in your heart.

      I think that as we grow older we realize that there’s something to Alex Haley’s quote:
      “In every conceivable manner, family is the link to our past, bridge to our future.”

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love that your grandmother came to see you at college. I didn’t know my grandparents well, because the grandfathers died when I was very young, and we didn’t live near our grandmothers. I have tried to keep a connection to my grandchildren even when they became adults and parents, but sometimes the divide of age related experiences and values is difficult to bridge…..different languages isn’t the only challenge we face in communicating. Your post is prompting me to try to use the internet more effectively to connect with my diverse grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
    When a grandson was teaching in Indonesia and Afghanistan I emailed him on a fairly regular basis, but had to be very careful what I said because the government kept a close eye on Christians in Indonesia and Afghanistan was even more dangerous. His school there had to close because of information that they were going to be bombed. I haven’t been as good about keeping in touch with those living at a distance in America. I am going to try to do better. Thank you for this post which touched my heart and makes me long for more closeness with the younger members of my family.
    (and as usual, I so enjoy your writing style.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, different languages isn’t the only challenge we face in communicating. I often wonder what went through my grandmother’s mind as she watched me and my ‘strange’ ways!

      It’s great that you’re reaching out to your great grand and grand kids. Your blog is another way that they can get to ‘know’ you. Some may not read it now, but I think later they will come to appreciate its precious value.

      Here’s a quote that came to mind as I read your comment:

      “Generations pass like leaves fall from our family tree. Each season new life blossoms and grows benefiting from the strength and experience of those who went before.” – Heidi Swapp

      @writing style, thank you so much!


  11. The silence made me restless and I longed to fill it, but you can only ask, “How your body? Home people? Sapele?” once.

    I’ve lived this and I know it’s not a beautiful experience. I wish I could have asked more questions, probe into those deep, old minds and hear stories from a time long before my arrival. But like you Timi, I could only ask those questions once and then sneak away, not because I really wanted to, but because that was all I (think I) could do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The silence can be awkward! Maybe now we can be more intentional about communicating and finding other means to share information. All the best as you probe those deep old minds.


      1. With all grandparents gone and a parent as well, it does feel like so much has been lost -forever. These days, when I get the chance to sit and talk with my Dad, eventually the conversations breach on those old memories. We laugh as we reminisce, inadvertent explanations drop along the way, like the long-lost pieces of a puzzle.

        Being an introspective person by nature, I find I must consciously override my default tendency to ‘live in my own head’ and experience the joys of having others in my life- even with the awkward conversations and silence. I make no claim to having won this battle yet, but I’ll keep fighting because once they’re gone, they’re gone. That’s it- forever.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. A worthy battle if you ask me. Much has been lost… ah but much can still be gained. I love this…

          “We laugh as we reminisce, inadvertent explanations drop along the way, like the long-lost pieces of a puzzle.”

          Powerful and beautiful.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. She was!

      Although she wasn’t formally educated, she valued education so much, her children were educated and she sponsored the education of some of her nieces and nephews. Now, you mention it, who knows what else that visit to campus meant to her …

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Timi, I’ve just realised after reading this wonderful piece of heart that I don’t have much recollection of one-on-one conversations with my grandmothers. All of them, from different sides of my complex family. However I can relate to the notion of them communicating with their eyes things that their tongues perhaps couldn’t utter. Even now, as I reminisce on a childhood gone by, I can feel their eyes on me. Thanks for taking me back to that place where many things were left unsaid but felt nevertheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is a great piece Timi.

    I am particularly fascinated by the text in your featured image. So true!

    I never knew any of my grandparents. When my mum’s father died, I only got to see my Mum cry so much for the first time. But I have the legacies of my paternal grandparents to be proud of. They were both Baptist deacons and they raised three clergymen and one deacon.

    The love of a parent is so strong not even a limitation in language can affect its potency. Thanks for sharing Timi.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good for you that you have the legacies of one set of grandparents! There’s something very tender about seeing how our parents love their parents.

      The African saying caused me to reflect. The library need not be ashes and rubble if we share our stories …

      Thanks Ife.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Your Princess grandmother sounds so sweet and gentle. Worrying is something which grows within us, especially if we have faced battles like she did, throughout her life, overcoming her husband’s restraints and raising your mother. Does your mother have many stories for you to write down, pass on? What a wonderful gift and surprise to show up at your college, Timi! ❤
    I have my great grandparents, grandparents and parents love stories in my first chapters of my blog, mixed in with dating adventures. I was glad my Grandmother Mattson, (nee: Paula Hilmida Haller) was German and could transition as a teenager into English and when she married my Grandpa, (Walter William Mattson) she and he agreed, only English and being American was their new way of living. Grandpa came from Sweden. Well, hopefully love has no barriers and she realized the depth of your love. I held my quiet English grandmother's hand often, she just was "shy" and "backwards," but spoke volumes in how she colored pictures and made us feel her love from living with us from my age of 3 until she passed away at my age of 15.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a rich repertoire of stories and memories from your family tree! Touch, holding hands, is a wonderful way to communicate love. Yes, love is spoken in many different languages.

      My mum continues to fill in the blanks. I still wish I could have heard from the horse’s mouth though.


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