Happy Birthday Grandma!


So lately, I have been glued to a marathon of the Rocky movie series, I guess because they have been showing them on the AMC channel.  I remember the Rocky enthusiasm when I was younger.

…that he won some and lost some.

Really, at the time, I was too young to understand or really remember what was going on or how the movie might come to reflect my life.

Remember the older guy Mickey, the trainer, the coach?

I had one of those in my life too… she was my grandmother—Ella Mae Johnson.  Just like Mickey, she was short, tough, honest to the “T”, my motivator, my cheerleader, my trainer, my fighter and most importantly, my grandmother.

Ella Mae Johnson was born on January 18, 1918, in Dickson, Tennessee.  She migrated up from the south to Detroit, Michigan, to be with her sister Lovie Taylor.  My grandmother later married Herbert Johnson and had 2 children, Wanda (my mother) and Ronald (my uncle aka the Mayor of Burns).  I would elaborate on that last one but that’s a whole other blog post.

Ella worked for Conrail Railroad Company for over 25 years and retired because my mother had me and she didn’t want anyone else to watch or take care of me.

Get used to this phase: “They don’t make grandma’s like mine anymore!” (I know I am going to be writing that A LOT throughout this blog.  As a matter of fact, let me just copy that quote now so I can paste it when I’m ready to use it.)

My grandmother was known on Burns, the street she lived on for over 50 years, as the “Silent Killer.” She could cut you a slick tongue and her eyes could cuss you out and hurt you to the core if you decided to journey on her bad side.  Now listen, my grandmother was a sharp, attractive, petite, dark-skinned black woman and had the gorgeous figure of a dancer. But most of all, she was very classy and she said very little at the most pivotal of times, which actually said a whole lot. “They don’t make grandma’s like mine anymore!”

Just like Mickey from Rocky, my grandmother trained me. Many people say that I am a good storyteller—that’s, in part, because she encouraged me to tell stories.  See, my grandmother took me to and from school everyday.  She did not just ask me, “How was school?”, but asked questions about the other children.  I would tell my version and she would laugh and sometimes even say that some things just weren’t right with my point of view“They don’t make grandma’s like mine anymore!”

I’ve always been loud… and had a loud laugh… My mother would always try to tame it or soften it up. And my grandmother, who was slowly losing her hearing, would respond, “I don’t mind. At least I can hear her.” “They don’t make grandma’s like mine anymore!”

My grandmother would take me to McDonalds on 1/2 days of school, to my dance practices, she taught me how to ride my bike, gave me the best Christmas presents ever, and most importantly she taught me how to fight for myself.  She pushed me and encourage me when I didn’t believe in myself.  She read every single article that I wrote in college and in my journalism career.

Ella Mae Johnson, was my biggest fan and my biggest cheerleader.  Always telling me that I could do it, always daring me to dream and when I would sit with her  and ask her what she thought about something…one of my dreams… or plans.. her response was “Well, I don’t see why not.”

I know one of her biggest challenges were Deena and I.  Deena is my first cousin on my mother’s side, Deena is Uncle Ronnie’s daughter.  So I guess when Ronnie dies she will assume the position as the “Mayor of Burns,” although she has NO desire too.  Deena and I use to fight like cats & dogs.  Deena is 7 years my junior and was raised by my grandmother.  When Deena first came to live with my grandmother, I thought it would be cool. Someone to play with anytime I wanted, and don’t get me wrong Deena loved to play with me. However as she grew up and she wanted to play her way and not mine.

Major problem!!! Big major problem, I laugh every time I think about Deena growing up and I’m proud of her when I think about all that she has accomplished.

So grandma, when you left physically from Earth on June 5th, 2006, I know that you had some unfinished business… at least I thought so… somethings were left unsaid and incomplete which you set in motion.  Here are some updates on your accomplishments:

  1. You’d be so proud to know that Wanda & Ronnie, your daughter and son, are doing fine.  Wanda is retired and has travelled overseas to the Vatican City just like you did.  Ronnie is coming close to retirement.  And guess what, Grandma?  They get along and they look after one another.  Hard to believe but its true.  They’ve miss you a lot! You would be proud.
  2.  Deena is doing very well,  she is married to a police officer and works for DTE Energy.  You remember Kameron, your great-grandson, he’s great, smart and very active just like Deena was when she was younger.   Deena also graduated from college and went on and attained her MBA. (Dropping the Mic on that one!).
  3. Your Godson Benjamin, is doing great.  He recently got married and has a family of his own.  And if I’m not mistaken he is in the military.  Gotta love him.
  4. As for me, I’m doing well, I hope I made you proud.  David, your first great-grandson, he’s tall, smart, and athletic.  I have my PhD in educational leadership, I know that  would blow your socks off considering how much I was always scared at report card time.  I am a teacher for Detroit Public Schools, although there is a lot going on with the district, I’m pleased with the impact that I have on my students. Mr. Big, who you would call Kevin, treats David & I very well. You would like him a lot.
  5. Deena and I are friends.  We hang out, talk and text each other. No more locking her in the laundry room and before you tell me it was wrong, it was…but it was warranted. LOL
  6. The Oprah Winfrey Show is no longer on… the girl went and brought her own network called OWN.  (Oprah Winfrey Network).  She works with Tyler Perry and they have something like Dynasty and Dallas going on with shows called “If Lovin You is Wrong” & “The Have & The Have Not.”
  7. Victor Newman is still alive and well on the “Young and The Restless”…and get this Grandma, he’s still having babies. I think you guys are around the same age and I swear still having babies.
  8. Judge Judy is still on the air. Remember her, we watched her in between Oprah’s commercials or during her reruns. Judge Judy is still holding up pretty good.
  9. We have a black President of the United States now.  This is his 2nd term. I would have given anything to see your reaction on that election night.


  1. How is Pa-Pa doing? You went to be with him the day before his birthday. Did he have roses upon your arrival? Did he dance you into the Pearly gates?
  2. What did you do when you first saw Auntie Lovie ?  When you first saw my cousin Evelyn?  Did y’all play pinnacle? Does Evelyn still listen to Lou Rawls? Did you guys laugh and drink your famous ice tea from the back of the porch freshly brewed by the sun.
  3. When my daddy, Isreal Chestnut, died on March 7, 2007 did you guys welcome him? Or Did you put him straight to work? Asking him to cook his famous fried fish or fix his banana pudding?  Why am I asking this question when I already know the answer, of course you did. How does my daddy divide his time between you and Aunt Nettie and his other siblings who went before him.  I bet in heaven there is no time, no pain, no concerns.  I betcha its just one big window of you guys looking down upon us, laughing, smiling, prideful of the lives you effected during your time here on Earth.
  4. And are you proud? Are you proud of what you have left behind?  We’re not perfect but you made us, coached us, molded us and never gave up on us.  We know, at times, we made you tired, we made you frustrated (Wanda, Ronnie and Deena did… not me because I was your favorite.  They can roll their eyes if they want too but it’s my blog and if they don’t like it stroll down), but we are all the better because of you.

Tears roll down my face as I asked each question. Not because I am fearful of the answer or the response but because I know…

You can’t answer me.

Today, is your birthday, your day to celebrate and my day to reflect on the most awesome coach/trainer/motivator a young black girl from the Eastside of Detroit could EVER have.

I thought about it.

Would it be too much to write a blog about you?

Would you want people know you and I’s business.. but then I thought… you would love for me to brag about you. And subsequently let you know  everything turned out fine. Heck, you deserved it. But most importantly, I just wanted to say thank you.

So I’m not thanking you… I’m thanking God for the blessing of having you for a Grandmother.  The blessing of being on the Ella Mae Johnson fight team and for allowing us to workout in your “gym of inspiration.” Thank You for your love, your voice, and your PUSH.

Your granddaughter,


Below  are some picture of you and I.  First picture is one of you and I, I think when I was 3 or 4 years old.  The next one is one of you and I after I had David.  You asked me “How they were treating me here?”  We were at my parents house that you called the mansion.The 3rd picture is of Deena, you and I at her high school graduation party.  Deena was so happy to have you there. And the last one, was one of my senior pictures with just you and I.  Back then it was the “thing” to take senior pictures with your best friend. I chose you because it was you. Happy Birthday, Grandma!


That's grandma love 001


Grandma & I my senior year



9 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Grandma!

  1. What a beautiful dedication to your grandmother. She was a beautiful woman and I know this not only from your blog but the woman she help to mold into the lady l know today. Simply beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok…that was beautiful! Hi everyone I’m Deena (from the blog). I just wanted to make one thing clear…she wasn’t her favorite -that would be me😉. I can’t even respond to this blog for real because of all of the tears but I’ll say this she was truly a GRANDmom! This was a perfect way to remember her today and always.

    And by the way …. I never did anything to be locked in the laundry room I was an 😇. She was just mean to me because she stop getting bikes from the Mayor of Burns(aka Uncle Ronnie, my Dad) when I was born.


  3. Dorian, what can I say but that you captured your grandma very well. She was a very fine lady. Not only did I think so but Benjamins dad truly felt that way. That’s how she was chosen as Benjamins God Mother.


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