I do not know anyone besides my sisters and brother who can say they’ve known 5 grandmothers and 4 grandfathers in their life. That’s a miracle. Our parents had us young, and so we were blessed with that. Now I have lost 8 of my grands, one just last year. But, I have to say, this one right here hurts the most.
A large portion of my earliest memories are right here in this church [Caldwell Chapel A.M.E. Zion in Kankakee, Illinois]: Richard’s voice, Mr. Harwell’s smile, Rev. Richmond’s preaching. Underneath this chapel, in that basement and around these surrounding rooms… I saw it as another little happy home, long before my immediate family was baptized and found a church home for us across town.
That example before my eyes early on in life– of handsome and well-dressed Black people, of praising God and being dependable to a community in his name, of building young people up to love ourselves and our gifts– gave me what I know are the cornerstones of the person and woman I am today. And that was because Vanilla Hudson took it upon herself to bring her great-granddaughter to church with her, for nothing in it for her. And I was just the first great-grandchild she would do this for. She was doing it up until she could no longer be here.
I drove home from the cities a few times and woke up on Sunday to sneak up next to my grandmother in a pew, without having to call her first to check if she was coming. I just knew she would be here. What does that say about a person, commitment, self-respect, and discipline? It said to me we should live most of life knowing when to step back, take a breath and ask: “What would Vanilla Hudson do?” Once we do whatever that might be, everything starts to work for a greater good.
This woman is the strongest example of power and sacrifice to higher purposes I have ever known up close and personal. She shows us life lived to maximum potential, and inspires us all to the same. No excuses. No complaints. No regrets. I do have one regret: my family I build throughout my life will not know her. But, they will surely know the woman it is my pride and joy to be middle-named after. As long as I go for living as long and happily as she did, not a day will pass I don’t miss her.
(Here is her formal obituary in our Kankakee, Illinois, town newspaper The Daily Journal: Vanilla Hudson obituary.)