I thought this past Thursday night was a typical catch session with my granny… Clearly, not the case.
She knew I was calling to interview her for my first “Where Were You When…” post. Our family knows her as the historian, so I figured it’d be an easy, but lengthy phone call.
I came up with 5 different questions…the basics, if you will. “Where were you when this happened? How’d it make you feel?”..and so on, and so forth. The interview actually turned into a very intriguing conversation…
The topic? “Where Were You When…. The Harriet Tubman 13 cent stamp was released?”
When? February 1, 1978… She was 36 years old… Now? She’s 67. At the time, she was a Housing Authority Coordinator for Johnson City, TN and a soon-to-be grandmother… my cousin was born that year… but that’s another story.
She described her usual first of the month to be wild.
“I had 200 tenants and I had to get my books reconciled so people could get paid. I probably worked till 8 at night”, she said.
But that day… Yeah, it was obviously different.
“A girlfriend of mine went to the post office to get us some stamps and they told her ‘hey, we got some new Harriet Tubman stamps if you want those’… so she came back and told me”, she said. “Honestly, hearing about it was amazement and shock and jubilation… all at once you know. It’s one of those things you’d never expect to see in a lifetime….”
Then she shrieked..
“And don’t you know they sold like HOT CAKES, Ayanna! We would go in there and say ‘Do you have any Black Heritage Stamps with Ms. Tubman. That’s the series of stamps you know. Girl, those stamps were validation. It said we as a people had value. It said we were worthy. I mean, we already knew we were just bad, or at least I did, but it verified it for us. ‘Specially us in the South. You held your head a little higher… You walked with a strut… I mean, Harriet was a bad mamma jamma. To see her finally honored… the world would see her contributions… She came out of slavery and made herself of value as a slave.. And for me, I could take my hard earned money… slap it on the counter… and buy a stamp with a black woman’s face on it…”
As she continued for another… hour, I’m sure… I thought about how I felt when President was elected, both times. You see, to me? It was just a stamp… For her? It was a step forward… into a future that she never would’ve dreamed of…
For once I saw my grandmother as a human… she had dreams… she had ambitions… she had insecurities… she hoped for things… she was just human. Just like me… It’s like I’m the Mary 2.0. I never really knew just how much I could relate to her. This conversation just made me want to ask her more questions. She was more than my grandmother that night… It’s like were friends… and good friends at that.
This is why the “Where Were You When…” posts are important. It shows us a perspective that otherwise would have been unheard. Plus, senior citizens have so much that they can give… the benefits for their simple conversations, are endless.