I had a maternal grandmother who we affectionately call Gramma. She raised nine children and became a widow at age 53. She started working outside the home at a school cafeteria in a small cotton town to make ends meet until two weeks before her death at 77 years old. She wasn’t famous. She had no money. She lived in a small country house that wasn’t anything special to the outside world.
Her nine children all married and produced 36 children. It would take a lot of brain power that I don’t have right now to figure up how many great grandchildren she had at her time of death and the number of great grandchildren, great great grandchildren, and great, great, great grandchildren who have been born since her death.
This woman formed my childhood. She was the glue that held all of the above people together. When I was inside her house there was no better feeling in the world. Everything felt safe when I was a Gramma’s house. The minute I walked into her door, the anticipation of the love to come made me giddy. The smell of whatever was on the stove, knowing she was in the kitchen in her muumuu cooking something that she knew we would all love. Her food was the food that all other food is measured by in my life.
I knew there would be three pies on top of the dryer: Lemon merengue, chocolate merengue, and coconut merengue. My mouth watered knowing that I would be encouraged to have a piece of all three before I left. I knew there would be a jar of sweet pickles. She would have a small crystal-ish dish, full of them but she would save the rest of the jar for me to eat with a fork straight out of the jar after Sunday dinner was over. I knew there would be Colonial Bread rolls, the kind that is split on the top in three sections slathered with butter before they went into the oven. There would be fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnip greens, corn, a plate with green onions, radishes, and celery stuffed with pimento cheese. I know I am probably leaving out at least ten other side dishes but you get the idea.
The house would be bulging with aunts, uncles, and cousins. It didn’t even register in my head how early she had to get up that Sunday morning to start preparing all of that food. I don’t recall there ever being all of her nine children and spouses with their kids being there at one time but there was almost always four or five sets accounted for. We would usually eat as soon as “everybody gets here”. Of course, the grown ups sat at the dining table that was groaning with the weight of the food. All of us kids just fixed a plate and took it to wherever we could find a spot in the house.
After dinner, the men usually went out to the screened porch for the rest of the day. Her porch had an odd assortment of chairs collected over the years and a box fan to move the air around. Because two of my uncles worked in the Detroit car industry, General Motors and Chrysler, there was always a friendly debate over the merits of each. My dad always drove a Ford back then so that was thrown into the mix as well.
The women would sit at the dining room table talking until they finally felt the strength to wash all of those dishes. After the dishes were washed, the Scrabble board would be set up on that dining room table and some of my aunts would play, some would watch, and all were laughing. The grandkids would all go into the yard and do what kids did in the 1960’s. It was called Entertaining Yourselves While the Grown ups Visited.
My biggest memory is the laughter. It rang through that house like church bells. Another memory is the unconditional love that glowed from within everyone. The warmth of that love is making me cry as I type the words.
Gramma has been gone since 1979. I tell my kids stories about how witty she was. I tell them about all of those aunts, uncles, and cousins. I tell them how much she loved Englebert Humperdink and Tom Jones when she was in her 70’s and they had their own television shows. My kids tell me all of the time that they wish they had known her.
I want to be Gramma when I grow up. I want my grandkids-to- be out of their minds with giddiness when they come to my house. I want them to run to me so they can feel all of the love come out of my heart that my Gramma put in there.
She writes about life, death, grief, and recovery.
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