Let’s put Grandma’s name in the masthead
“… there are no villains in this story. There’s just a ragtag band of hillbillies struggling to find their way — both for their sake and, by the grace of God, for mine.”
— J.D. Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy”
When I was little, I had this cousin who knew my brother and I weren’t allowed to hit girls, so she used to run up and sock us and then run away laughing.
But, when my cousin tried to pull her hit-and-run routine around Grandma for the first time, Grandma told my brother and I to go get her. She got a good sock on the arm from each of us.
Don’t hit, Grandma told all of us kids, unless you expect to get hit back.
We buried my grandmother on Thursday in Battle Creek. Anna Louise Favorite was 73.
My mom and aunts asked me to deliver the eulogy, and, as I struggled to write it in my brother’s dining room last week, my mind kept going back to that incident with my cousin. It said so much about Grandma, my mother, me, and, I realize now as I write this with the sun coming up in Alpena, about my approach to newspapering.
There is no question that Grandma was the matriarch of the Favorite/Burton clan. She organized the big annual family reunions, where she scolded those who’d gotten into trouble over the past year, praised those who’d done well, forced quarrelling cousins to hug and make up, recounted family lore, and laid down the family law, supreme of which is that blood is thicker than water and family always comes first (“laugh at yourself” was a close second).
Grandma was a kind, patient, hardworking, gentle spirit who did what needed to be done with little complaint and rarely rose to anger. She wouldn’t explain it in these words, I don’t think, but what made her angriest was injustice — anytime the little guy got the shaft, anytime undeserved pain was inflicted, anytime someone took advantage of someone else.
A fight was a fight and, if someone got bested by an equal, well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
But if someone picked on someone smaller than them, or if — God forbid — someone kicked someone when they’re down, those were the few times I heard my grandmother swear (in contrast to my grandfather, who used the f-bomb unartfully and indiscriminately and at least 30 times in any conversation).
Grandma was especially angered if family was involved in some injustice, doubly so if we were the perpetrator.
Grandma would listen to us complain about each other and would comfort us, but, if we were in the wrong, she would tell us so. Make sure you’re not living in a glass house, she would say, before you start hurling stones.
And she would try to remind us to walk for a while in the shoes of whomever we were complaining about, to feel the blisters they felt.
“There, but for the grace of God, goes you,” she would say.
Grandma stuck up for the little guy, rooted for the underdog. She expected us to give a hand to those who needed it, but we shouldn’t beg for help ourselves. Our job is to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps so we might help others (yes, Grandma saw great truths in a great many cliches).
I owe just about every good thing about me to my mother.
And I realize now that Mom owes a great many good things about herself to her mother.
And my journalism owes a great deal to that legacy.
In my mind, journalism is about working hard, without complaining but with humor, to point out when the playing field is unlevel. It’s about telling stories to help people walk in another’s shoes. It’s about holding people accountable for their actions, including ourselves.
About making sure people aren’t hitting someone just because they know their victim can’t hit them back.
So many decisions I make as managing editor of this newspaper are based on the lessons of my grandmother, they ought to put Anna Louise Favorite in the masthead.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.