Today is my Granny’s birthday. She hasn’t been here to celebrate it with us in seventeen years. That blows my mind to think about how long it has been since I’ve heard her say, “Hey girl” in that special way she had. I guess it’s because in so many ways, so many times I feel her with me and I can even hear her voice.
Granny was the wise country woman who sewed her own dresses, had her gardening boots by the back door, and kept a butter churn next to the gas heater. I don’t remember any butter being made in it, but that doesn’t mean she never did. She was always busy. Her hands were always doing something. Shelling peas, shucking corn, stirring the soup, patting out the biscuits, frying the okra or catfish, sewing a dress, painting a ceramic figure, playing a game with one of her grandchildren, turning the pages in her Bible, rolling out pie crust, washing dishes, or laying out the pallet for us to sleep on. She kept a tissue box in the back window of the car, and I used to think how smart she was to do that. She kept toys in the bottom of the china cabinet for us to play with. I was especially fond of the Fisher Price Little People RV/camper. (Maybe I can blame my ever-present longing for an RV on that?) She kept Archie and Jughead and Betty and Veronica comic books for us to read on lazy summer afternoons as we waited for the heat to let up a bit so we could go back outside. She had a room full of wonderful books. Some of my favorites were the Wonderful World of Disney set of storybooks–“Tales from Another Land” and so on–thanks to eBay we also have a set of these great books. I read the best biography of Lady Jane Grey (yes I’ve read more than one–ahem–nothing wrong with that right?) that belonged to her laying on the bed in her back bedroom.
That room, which I believe was my Daddy’s and his brother’s growing up (is that right?) , was once called the “cold room.” It was on the other side of the house from the other two bedrooms, and it stayed a lot cooler than the other two. It was the furthest from the little gas heater. I don’t remember when, but one year Granny put up some curtains that were red bandana and denim print as I recall. It was then re-dubbed the “pretty room.” That room was not one usually frequented by us children. Perhaps that’s why it felt like it held some kind of secret magic or something. This was the ideal place for keeping the Christmas candy and goodies that Granny prepared year after year. Oh my, the bounty I can remember being in there in Tupperware containers and the like. Martha Washingtons, Buckeyes, Divinity, Date balls, and so many, many more. The mind and my sweet tooth would boggle. I can also remember beans and other vegetables laying out to dry to become seed for the next spring. We had to be careful not to step on or scatter them.
Granny’s was a safe place for me, and so much stayed the same that being there was always a comfort. Honeycomb cereal poured from the plastic cereal bins. Irish Spring soap in the old bathtub with the high curved sides. And I’m pretty sure she always had Pepsodent, but I could be wrong about that. She kept red solo cups for drinking water–the smaller sized ones–in a dispenser next to the second sink in the kitchen. When she made homemade peach ice cream, she had these little containers she’d pour leftovers in to have another time. Only you might better think of it a little bit before you wanted to eat it, because it was brick hard when it first came out of the freezer, and it took a little while to get just right for eating.
Granny loved dogs. She bred terriers back before I can really remember, and then later she had a basset hound and bred those. She let us watch “Gunsmoke” in the afternoon and “Hee Haw” on Saturday night. And she watched the 11 o’clock news on WMAZ every night. We knew the lights were going out at 11:35. In later years, after her move to town, “Doctor Quinn” was her go to show. That and anytime Billy Graham was on TV. She didn’t watch a lot of TV, she wasn’t still enough to do so until her body slowed down, and she couldn’t do as much.
My Granny taught us to “be particular.” These were words that covered a lot of territory. Be particular about your belongings. You don’t need much, but take care of the things you do have. Be particular about the people you look to for guidance. That doesn’t mean you can’t care about folks who are different, just be careful what example you’re following. Be particular about what you eat–make sure it’s real and good. Be particular about your language. What words are coming out of your mouth. No need to resort to certain kinds of language or saying unkind things. Be particular with other people’s things, feelings, and hearts. And be particular with the choices you make. They are a lot more far-reaching than you think. I think that if I ever go back and put “Loved” and “Others” on Mama and Daddy’s gravestones, I should probably go ahead and put “be particular” on Granny’s. Because she was.
She had a saying that she often still says to me. And I’ve earned it. Every. Single. Time.
“Lazy folks always did have the most to do.” I guess she said it. Mama quoted her left and right when I was growing up, and now, no kidding, it’s my Granny’s voice I hear when I wind up having to clean up two messes because I didn’t feel like taking care of the first one in a more timely manner. Or when I don’t take the time to put something up right and it either gets lost or broken. Ahem. Not that these things happen very often. Not at all.
Granny could straight cook. Each year, on her birthday, I have made her coconut cake from her recipe. It is one of my favorites, especially after a day or two when the icing has had a chance to sink into the cake a little bit. Oh boy. When it snowed on her birthday weekend in 1993, and the family get together at her house in town had to be cancelled, I was the lucky one who went to stay with her because we’d lost power out in the country. I took her coconut cake with me and we had some Saturday night after Dr. Quinn but before bed. And again on Sunday morning. For breakfast. As I mentioned off-handedly that maybe I shouldn’t be eating cake for breakfast, she told me in no uncertain terms that she had a friend in the nursing home who said something about eating good things while you still can, “because the day is going to come when you can’t.” Amen.
I love my Granny. She was a strong woman, and the memories of her carry me through hard times of my own. She stood by my Papa and my Granddaddy as illness and age took them away from this life. Her faith never seemed to waver. She loved God fiercely. She was smart and knew how to take care of things. After she moved to town, the layout of the house was very different. Where there had been no hall in the house on the farm, now she had a long hall to trek down from the living room to the bedroom. And unless she went down, turned on her bedroom light, and then came back and turned off the living room light, it could be a long and risky trek. She asked someone in to do a little work, and the next thing I knew, Granny could leave on the living room light, go down the hall to her bedroom, turn on her bedroom light, and then turn off the living room light. From her room. So cool. She laughed that the next folks who bought the house would probably think, What on earth?! I laughed too.
Today I didn’t make my Granny’s cake. I didn’t make a side trip out to the cemetery on the outskirts of town where she was laid to rest. What I did instead was carry her in my heart all day, not much different from any other day, but I celebrated the good memories I have. Of telling ghost stories late at night while staying there with my cousins. Of playing “hangman” with her and us laughing over the crazy words we came up with. Or Battleship–that was my very favorite. Of me sharing strawberries I’d just picked or picking up Church’s Chicken or Creekside Catfish for her. Mostly of the great conversations we always were able to have. Today I remembered all of those, and I took care of business. The business of putting away the things of another life well lived. Another strong woman I love. It was time. I like to think that she and my Granny are up there, pausing for a moment in the middle of their birthday festivities, nodding, approving what we got done today and letting me know it’s okay there’s no cake this year. Now my Daddy–he’s off to the side, shaking his head, and saying, “Well, it’s about time.” But my Granny, she probably cut her eyes at him and told him to leave me alone–that I’m doing okay.
At least I sure hope so. She was a fabulous woman whom I love and adore. I sure hope she’s okay with who I’m becoming. Because I sure am a work in progress, and I really am trying to be particular.
Happy birthday, Granny!
Love to all. If you still have your Granny with you, go hug her. They’re precious and dear, hold on tight.