Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Grandmama

Grandmama was raised in rural south central Alabama.  She only had an eighth grade education, but that was relatively normal where and when she was growing up.  The one or two room community schools that she attended only went to the eighth grade, then students transferred to the high school in town.  For many, that was too far, especially for a girl who got to school each day by riding on the back of her teachers donkey.

By seventeen, she had blossomed into a beautiful woman.  Basically, she was a dark haired Barbie doll figure, with long legs and large breasts.  She was the epitome of a woman of the 1940s.

In her younger years, she was far from perfect.  She was pregnant when she got married at seventeen, she had at least one short affair with a famous country music figure of the time, and even spent one night in jail.  The night in jail is an interesting story.  My granddaddy was an alcoholic in his younger days, and he and his brother had been arrested for public intoxication.  Grandmama, in her eighty-nine years, never spent a night alone.  From the time she was a child, she was afraid of the dark and that fear never changed.  So, instead of going home the night that Granddaddy was arrested, she stayed that night in jail with him.  He was released the next day, and they went home.

Grandmama gave birth to her first child, Hope, seven months after her marriage.  Hope lived shortly over a year, but developed pneumonia.  She died on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.  My grandparents came home from the hospital after my aunts death, turned on the radio, and heard the announcement that the Japanese had bombed Hawaii's Pearl Harbor.

During World War II, she followed Grandaddy to his training camps, and when he was shipped to England with the Corps of Engineers, she stayed with family in Alabama working various jobs, but mostly as a beautician. When he returned home after the war, my daddy was born, roughly nine months later.  Shortly after Daddy was born, Grandmama told Grandaddy that he could either quit drinking or she would leave him.  He never took another drink, except to test her homemade cough syrup and to taste the bourbon to make sure it was good enough for her fruit cakes.

Grandmama spent most of her life working in factories.  We lived in an area that before NAFTA was rich in textile factories. When she was thirty-nine, she became, surprisingly, pregnant with a third child.  She swore that would never happen again, and she and my Grandaddy never slept in the same bed again. My aunt was born a few weeks before Grandmama's fortieth birthday.  With Daddy almost grown, Grandmama was basically starting over again with raising another child.

In January 1978, when I was six weeks old, my mother had to return to work.  At the time, Mama was a public home health nurse.  From that point on, I spent every week day with Grandmama, who kept me for Mama.  When I started school, I spent every Friday night with Grandmama, and we ate supper with her every Wednesday night.  During the summers, I spent the days with Grandmama again.  My sister was also always there with us, but in the twenty-one months before I was born, my sister was with the nanny who had helped raise Mama.

After Grandmama retired from working in the factories, she began what would be her daily routine until my Grandfather's death in 2001.  She woke up at dawn each morning and made a pot of coffee, then she began making breakfast. Breakfast could be as simple as homemade buttermilk biscuits and sausage or as complex as biscuits, sausage, gravy, eggs, and grits.  No matter, it was always a hearty breakfast.  While Grandaddy was still working, she also packed his lunch each day.  When breakfast was over, she cleaned up and did one of a few things. If it was Monday, she did her laundry for the week.  If it was the summer, she spent the cool hours of the morning up in the fields picking peas, butter beans, corn, okra, squash, or whatever else they were growing that year.  When she came back from the field, she would start dinner.  When dinner was finished and eaten she cleaned up and sat to watch her soap operas.  During her "stories," she often crocheted.  About the middle of the afternoon, she started cooking supper, which was the most elaborate meal of the day.  She was a true southern country cook, and the best I have ever known.  After supper, she cleaned up, and then finally had some time to rest.  On Friday nights when we spent the night with her, after supper was time for Dallas and Falcon Crest.

Though she had her faults at times in her life, she was a good Christian woman.  Before she became to sick to do so, she went to church every Sunday.  She told me once that though she was raised and originally baptized a Baptist, when she was baptized into the Church of Christ, she knew she had found God and the right church.  Incidentally, I have always felt the same way.

 She was always proud of her grandchildren, but she and I had a special bond. That is what makes this so very hard.  On her 89th birthday two weeks ago, she was so proud to have all of her family with her.  She was still in relatively good health for an 89 year old woman with COPD.  She especially loved her great-granddaughter, my precious little niece.

Grandmama passed on to the next life yesterday evening. It may get easier eventually, but it's very difficult right now to think of her as gone.  I can only console myself in the fact that she is no longer struggling and she is with Granddaddy, her baby Hope, and her friends and family who preceded her.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18 KJV)


Steve said...

Thanks for sharing this compelling portrait. You made me feel sorry that I never had the pleasure of meeting your grandmother.

Losses like this are difficult. We all have to go through them as the price of staying alive ourselves.

In the 6th paragraph, line 4, you will want to change that "her" to "she." Substantively, I have to say that I feel for your Granddaddy. I hate to think of his being cut off from connubial bliss at such a young age.

Strange how your grandmother got over her fear of sleeping alone so suddenly.

Rod said...

My heart breaks for your loss. When I read and hear stories from other people and of their loved ones passing,it always catapults me back to the loss of own family members and closest friends. I wish you peace and healing. Grandmama is in my prayers.

Jay M. said...

What a touching memoir of a great and grand lady. My heart goes out to you and your family, Joe. Peace be with you.


gerry said...


My prayers are with you in the coming days. Paraphrasing Romans... " remember that all things come together for good to them that love God ".

The pain is here but the Joy will come. It's been 47 years since my grandmama passed and I still think of her often with smiles. Born in the Tidewater, she was one of the worst Southern Cooks to ever live, and freely admitted that she would have starved as a young bride if not for my grandfather, when she was between cooks.

May she Rest in Peace to Rise in Glory.

David K. Popham said...

Thank you for sharing this touching and loving personality with us. I know that during the pain of loss this may not be appropriate, but remember that all she gave to you is still with you - not even death can take that away. May you find peace and comfort as your grandmother now finds peace and comfort.

fan of casey said...

Joe: What a fitting and moving tribute to grandmama. She will always be with you as long as you carry these fond memories in your heart. And one day you will meet again.

Jack Scott said...

Reading your tribute to your dear Grandmother reminded me of how much I love my own maternal Grandmother.

GrandMa was always special to me. We didn't live close so I didn't see her as often as I would have liked but when I did see her I would sleep in her bed and we would talk into the night. This continued until I was almost a teen ager.

GrandMa was an amazing woman. She and GrandPa had made a life for themselves and their children. Three of the five graduated from college and all were successful because they were taught to work hard and make the most of opportunity just as my Grandparents did.

GrandMa died in 1983 when I was 36 years old. She was one of those unusual people who never aged during the 36 years I knew her. She just remained the same.

Though its been almost 30 years since she passed away, I miss her still. I also miss her homemade biscuits and her sugar tea cakes.

I'm glad you have such wonderful memories of your Grandmother. They'll get even more wonderful as the years pass.

Jack Scott

Mack said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, but what a gift to have been touched by such a wonderful person. Requiescat in Pace.

kent fischer said...

So very sorry for your loss of a very important person. We can not say enough or offer few insights that can lessen you pain. But be assured that there are many out here that read you blog that are thinking of you and your family at this time.

victor said...

I also had awonderful grandmother I owe her my vision of life,my beliefs and my vocation to help people.You will never forget her and thank God for her.