She had long hair, gray eyes, caramel brown skin, and a lisp, and I wanted to be just like her, Gracie, my babysitter, with the hippest bell bottoms that she wore to cover her Earth Shoes. I willed my hair longer, wished for gray eyes, was happy my skin looked like hers and pulled my regular pants below my waist so I, too, could have dragging pants. Gracie was pretty and sweet and smelled good too, like the first scent of flowers in spring. I added bacon to my grits with a sprinkle of pepper because this is how Gracie, 15 years my senior, ate her grits. Every chance I got my school-girl self became Gracie, my neighbor who watched me and my siblings from infancy until we could stay home alone. But even after she stopped sitting, I longed to be like her.
I wanted Greg, the only boyfriend I remember Gracie having until she met David, who is now her husband. Greg was a tall and thin chocolate brown honey with a huge Afro and sports car. He and Gracie would take me for rides, just rides; we wouldn’t go anywhere in particular. Gracie laughed and snuggled with Greg and I snickered in the backseat. Though she was into him, she was never loud or lewd, and Greg seemed to worship her. I wanted Greg to be my boyfriend. When I went on rides with them I pretended he was; I just allowed Gracie to sit in the front seat and snuggle. But with Gracie being pretty, smart and smiley and me sitting in the back sit, I knew I didn’t have a chance with Greg. Gracie found out she didn’t either, though. I remember her and my mom talking in hushed tones and Gracie shaking her head knowingly. I don’t know what happened, but I know Gracie knew that Greg wasn’t good for her. I never saw him with Gracie again.
After that she smiled a bit less for a while, but she didn’t stop. She never let anything stop her. Not an unstable family life. Not skipping college to work so she could live on her own. Not challenges in her own family. Whether job loss, house loss, or loved one loss, she has remained focused and hopeful. Though I first loved Gracie because she was pretty and smelled good, I began to love her more for her strength to make the hard decisions, to go forward when others would have walked away. This determination sprang from her human spirit but has been sustained by the Holy Spirit, who came to reside in her when she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior. Still I long to be like her, now because of her determination to please God, no matter what the cost. Janet “Gracie” Hector, with her sweet smiling saved self, is my lifetime shero.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith