Friday, June 12, 2009


My grandmother died a year ago yesterday. I still feel the loss so deeply; the oddest things remind me of her. We've been getting a lot of rain lately and she used to call me if there were reports of thunderstorms on the news to make sure we were OK. I have so many of her things still to sort through piled up in my house. As the closest relative I was responsible for clearing her home and it's so sad to see 50 years of living in her house narrowed down to one pile in my dining room and one pile in my hallway. Of course a lot went to various relatives, but to have a lifetime boiled down to two piles just doesn't seem right somehow. I guess it's good there's not more really, I mean what would I do with it all, but it's still sad.

My grandmother was the most amazing woman. She lived through so much, starting with the Depression. Her family went through it with a minimum of hardship thanks to the ingenuity of her parents; they were farmers in Alabama. Her dad also ran a barbershop on the weekends, did some veterinary work, and built houses later in his life. They had 12 children together. She's told me so many stories of her childhood, some happy and some not so much. From her accounts her mom was stoic and could be cold at times, but she says she always knew how much her mother loved her. Her mom died when my grandmother was 13 then she lost a beloved older brother shortly afterward in a traffic accident. The older girls married and moved away so she was left with the weight of the household on her too young shoulders. She had to quit school to take care of the family, including two little ones. She told me once she shuddered to think what those kids must have looked like when she sent them off to school in the morning. Her dad turned to alcohol for several years after losing his wife so she lacked any support that she might have otherwise found in him. She left home once or twice and lived with relatives to get away from her home life, but she went back until she got married.

She married my grandfather and went through times when they really struggled to make ends meet. She worked in a cotton mill for a while and has told me how physically demanding that work was; it took a horrible toll on her. She also worked in a rocket factory briefly during WWII but she had to leave when the paint fumes made her nauseous since she was pregnant with my aunt. She was a real Rosie the Riveter, even if it was for a short time! She had a rough time of it with my aunt, too; she's told me several times how difficult that birth was for her. She thought she was going to die at one point from loss of blood but she pulled through. She had my mom first, then my aunt close behind, then several years went by and she had my youngest aunt. They made a move to another state when my youngest aunt was a toddler, I believe, and established a new life away from Alabama and the cotton mills. My grandfather became a plumber and their life revolved around their family and their church. They bought a house, always had a decent car, and got their girls educated on a blue collar salary. My grandmother worked on and off over the years, one time as a pharmacy technician and several times as a salesperson and cashier for local stores.

My grandmother was the family matriarch in so many ways. She was the glue that held us all together with her big family get togethers. I remember Christmas at her house when everyone would be there. My family, my aunts, cousins, even a few friends would join us. She cooked for days before these events, sometimes longer than that if you count the cookies and desserts she would freeze weeks ahead of time. (And she LOVED her freezer; we would shudder sometimes at what she would pull out of there as she got older since it could have been in there since the Dark Ages. The desserts were always good but there were some other things…) I asked her to write down all of her recipes for me one time in one of those fill in the blank books and she did; that book is one of my most treasured possessions. I’ve tried to replicate her feasts a few times but it’s too much work! It leaves me utterly exhausted; I don’t know how she did it, but she did, and thrived on it. She would let me bring a side dish a couple of times, but mainly she wanted to do everything herself so she could bask in her well deserved glory. ;)

She was a story teller, too. I spent so much time with her when I was younger listening to tales of her childhood, frequently with my head on her lap while she rubbed my hair. She was a comforting presence for my childhood, too. I loved spending time at her house. Some of my memories include sleeping over on Friday nights and waking up to the sounds and smells of her cooking her big Saturday morning breakfast, bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, the works, and coffee perking away in the percolator. I would luxuriate in bed listening to her moving around in the kitchen until time to get up. I remember watching Sesame Street at her house when she was babysitting me and my brother. I made a city once at her house, cutting it out of paper like paper dolls and making all the buildings stand up. I also read a lot since my youngest aunt kept all of her books on the bookcase in her room, Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys among others. When my grandfather arrived home he would park in his recliner and watch the news or read the newspaper until time for dinner, which was always so good since she was a fantastic cook. The drink of the house was tea. She made it with sugar when I was little but when they came out with the artificial sweeteners she would leave the sugar out and everyone would sweeten their own glass, a definite change for the negative in my mind. She never called it “sweet tea”, like you hear in the south, but that’s what it was by default.

I went on a trip with my grandparents when I was 12 to visit my aunt in college in Illinois at a school near Chicago. It was the longest trip I’d ever been on and I felt so lucky to be able to go, just me, not my brother. (Sorry kid.) We went by car and stopped to visit relatives in Alabama. We saw mountains as we drove through Tennessee. We went to the top of the Sears tower and saw the elevated trains. I went up to my aunt’s room when we visited her and felt so cool to be in a college dorm. I loved being with my grandparents no matter where we went.

She stopped traveling as she got older since she developed agoraphobia. She was able to get out around her neighborhood but wouldn’t go more than a few miles from her home. My grandfather passed away when they were in their mid sixties; she would go on to live another 20 years or so without him. He passed away after I met my husband but before we got married; I’m glad DH met him before he died. My grandmother carried on and did quite well, all things considered, for a long time. She was my rock when there were problems with other family members. She didn’t take sides, she just continued to love us all. Absolute unconditional love for everyone in her family. Oh, there was friction between her and her daughters on occasion, but the love was always there. She was always there. I don’t know how I’ve gotten through this past year without her; I miss her so much.

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