When I was a little girl we lived next door to my father’s parents. They were strict people: no short sleeves, no jewelry (including wedding rings) no music except hymns on Sundays.
But they were also great fun, being crazier than anyone else I knew. In my house, books lined the hallway, flowed across bedroom floors, covered every flat surface. In theirs lived just three: a Bible (KJV and don’t you forget it); a strange novel from the 1920s called something like Mary of the Hazel Woods, about a mountain girl’s search for book larnin’ so she could get herself a Bible – which she did months later after taking in sewing and then walking barefoot through the woods for eight miles to buy one second-hand, repairing the cover with her sewing needle; and, for some unknown reason, a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
I don’t think they’d read the sonnets. I read every book in their house at least three times in the years they babysat me after school, and by age eleven understood that a bunch of those poems were about sex. I didn’t let on, though; I’d had enough of that self-righteous prig Mary o’ Hazel Woods.
Everyone in my family but them liked books. And although everyone in my family liked God and talked about Him a lot, Grandma and Grandpa said things the rest of us didn’t. Like He didn’t like it when people with straight hair used curlers.
So I grew up viewing my grandparents with equal parts love and suspicion, learning not to rely too much on Grandma’s little homilies, delivered as we were cooking or sewing together. Among other things, Grandma believed women should not go to college, that when Catholics died they shot down a specially reserved chute straight into Hell, and that the people across the street were spies for the CIA.
“Why would that matter, Grandma?” I asked, still kinda stuck on the “girls shouldn’t go to college” part.
“Because they’re spying on me.”
“The CIA wants to spy on you?”
“‘Course they do. They wanna know ever’thin’ ’bout ‘ever’body in America.”
“Uhh, okay, Grandma. How do I turn this seam?”
As the years flew by, it grew simpler to filter out the silly stuff–like not having sex except to have children (which explained why some of the extended family had so many, but I kept my mouth shut)–and hang onto the stuff that seemed wise–like darning socks over a light bulb, and putting the milk into the biscuit batter last.
Trouble is, I missed a good one. All these years later, with Grandma long gone and her granddaughter crocheting her own socks after getting a PhD and then opening a bookstore, I have to admit Grandma was right about the spying. The CIA does watch everybody – or maybe it’s that NSA, or whoever’s in charge of the Internet now. Everywhere you turn it’s Edward Snowden, data mining, privacy rights, and on and on and on.
Sorry, Gran, you were right the whole time. About that. I’m still not buying that women should stay home with three books and not go to college. Love you, though, and thanks for the recipes!
My grandma loved me unconditionally and prayed for me daily. She always welcomed me with open arms for a big hug. Thank you grandma. You touched my heart and all of my life. Thanks Wendy, for sharing your grandma with us.
I always enjoy your blogs, Wendy, but this one was especially special! Sadly, my grammies were not able to be present with/to me very much, but when I was a young mother, I had a neighbor who really filled the bill! She was always there for me, always with a pot of evil-looking coffee that was an essential part of the comfort, and always with an ear/heart that listened to the most outrageous things I had inside me. I NEVER heard from Rachele a “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “That’s not God’s will” or “That’s not a nice thing to say”. In fact, she never gave me any answers. Just her empathetic presence. And a never-empty cup of the thickest, darkest brew of caffeine you could imagine. Thank you, Rachele – say Hello for me to the angels surrounding you.
Special post since my Mommaw lived next door.
You are indeed a master storyteller! I never knew one grandmother and the other I only met once or twice. She lived with my cousins and was always fixing their hair. I learned that putting cold water on your hands before smoothing the hair helps keep it together until you have secured the braids or pony tail. From your story, I like that your grandmother believed that there was a specially reserved chute so that when Catholics died they shot straight down to hell!
We stopped by your bookstore in June when we were at the Melungeon Conference. You were in Scotland, but your cat came out to greet us. Next time we are in the area, we will stop by to say hello.
Mary Lee & Frank from Palm Coast, FL