Bobba and Grandy: Memories of My Grandparents . . . by Dianne Mason

My parents were not the most reliable people. Mama suffered from severe depression and Daddy’s mood swings kept us all walking on eggshells. Fortunately, my brother, sister, and I had our maternal grandparents, Bobba and Grandy. We lived with them until I was five and then again for three years after my parents divorced.  In between, we lived next door or nearby.

Every child should have a grandmother like Bobba, someone to tell them they’re special and loved. When she hugged me against her soft breasts and told me everything was going to be okay, I believed her. She cooked for us, kissed our cuts and scrapes, comforted us when we were afraid, and made sure we said our prayers. From her I learned about unconditional love, generosity, and consideration for others. While I loved her with all my heart, I was my grandfather’s girl. 

Grandy was a short, wiry man with bandy legs and dark, leathery skin from working outdoors much of his life. The years of hammering and sawing as a carpenter caused his arms to look a bit like Popeye’s. He cursed like a sailor, loved to fish and drink whiskey, and Bobba said that in his youth he “would fight a circle saw” he was so feisty. His nickname was Snake. Snake Jones. And I loved him desperately. 

There are many stories I can tell about Grandy and the influence he had on my life – how he taught me to be self-reliant, to stand up for myself and others, and to be honest above all else. He was not perfect, for sure, but his love for me and my siblings was steadfast and abundant. Here’s something I wrote about him in a memoir class a few years ago.

It’s Time to Tell You About My Grandfather

I will tell you about the boat he made for me out of a galvanized steel washtub and an old tractor inner tube. 

I will tell you how he taught me to fish – to gently lay a fly on the water and wait.

I will not tell you that he quit drinking Folger’s coffee because he hated Mrs. Olsen in the TV commercial.

I will tell you how he trudged two miles through a rare Mississippi snowstorm for milk so my brother, sister, and I could have hot chocolate.

I will tell you how he wrapped his arms around my grandmother in the kitchen as she cooked dinner and made her giggle.

I will not tell you that he refused to watch NBC, the entire network, because a black man starred in I Spy.

I will tell you how he ate raw oysters – icy cold, on a saltine, with a dash of Tabasco.

I will tell you that he raised chicks under a grow light and held their whispery softness next to my cheek.

I will not tell you of the sorrow in his eyes when the ambulance drove away with my mother. 

Grandy died when I was a sophomore in high school. All winter I wore his red and black flannel shirt. Its soft comfort smelled like him – Old Spice aftershave, cigarette smoke, and his own special scent, a mixture of loamy earth and fresh air. I wore it to school every day, sleeves rolled up and hem down to my knees, as if it were my coat of armor. As the season turned and it became too hot to wear flannel, I wrapped the shirt around my pillow and slept on it. 

When my children were little, each night after reading to them, I’d tell them a story about my grandparents, whom they’d never met. It became a ritual they loved. Thus, I kept the memory of those two wonderful people alive. I have grandchildren now, and I’m doing my best to be the kind of grandparent to them that I was fortunate enough to have in my life.

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Dianne Mason grew up in rural Mississippi. She has taught writing at Richland College in Dallas, Texas, and at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC. A published poet, she has also written five screenplays, two of which have been optioned. Visit Dianne’s blog:  An English Teacher’s Garden.

Some other links Dianne would like you to explore:

https://www.pinterest.com/diannehmason/

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Dianne-Mason

https://www.facebook.com/anenglishteachersgarden/

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Read another family story about a loving grandmother — Pam Pellegrino’s “Nana Takes Pam to College.”

Finding Our Place, Planting Love . . . by Linda Whitesitt

Finding Our Place -- Gustaf Elof Johnson

Gustaf Elof Johnson (1903 wedding photograph)

From Linda’s upcoming novel-in-verse Hope as Wide as a Prairie Sky based on the homesteading experiences of her maternal grandparents in Canada and eastern Montana, Elof and Gedia Johnson. (The poems are in Gedia’s voice.)

 

Elof filed a claim for land
in Canada’s Western plains —

one quarter section of land
a half-mile square,

one hundred and sixty acres
in the District of Assiniboia,

five hundred miles northwest of Alexandria,
fifty miles north of the Canadian-North Dakota border.

In return for our square of earth,
we paid a small registration fee

and promised the government
we’d “prove it up” —

cultivate the land, build a permanent
dwelling on it within three years.

      Of course we’ll live there,
      I said to Elof.

      Where else does the government think 
      we’re gonna live?

Elof always had such patience,
especially with me. He had to.

A farmer can’t survive without patience.
Neither can a husband.

When I stop to think about it,
Elof was a mixture of patience

and a let’s-get-it-done-now attitude.
It just depended on what he was up against,

and that spring, he was keen to leave Alexandria,
catch prime plowing and planting time in Canada.

So he bought two tickets for a train leaving on May 4,
only a week and a half after our wedding,

two days after my twenty-fifth birthday.
For our fare, a fare made cheap by the railroad

so homesteaders could afford to take all their belongings,
we had half a railroad car for our four head of cattle,

four horses and stock feed; half a car
for our wagon, farm equipment, fence supplies,

seed grain, household goods and food stuff;
and two seats in the “colonist” car,

a car with pull-down sleeping berths
and a kitchen I could use.

      It’ll more than do,
      I told Elof.

It was a long, stuffy, bumpy trip, every seat taken
by people from more countries than we could name,

air filled to bursting with the aroma of strange food
and languages we didn’t understand.

When finally the train pulled into a baby-of-a-town,
a town we’d soon name Midale,

we unloaded our property, tied up our animals
and tried to sleep in an empty railroad car

left alongside the tracks by officials.
I don’t think either one of us slept.

Too excited. Too tired.
Too much unknown.

In the morning, we set out to find our land,
using a compass to calculate direction,

counting the revolutions of a rag tied
to a wagon wheel to gauge distance.

It was well past noon before we spotted
the survey mound and stake marking the location

of our homestead — North East section 32,
township 05, range 10 west of the second Meridian.

Overcome with gratitude for land
that was ours, Elof and I knelt down,

planted our palms on the warm,
spring ground, promised God we’d seed

love as well as wheat in the soil
He’d entrusted to us.

      Forever, Gedia,
      Elof said as he helped me up.

Standing with him, I looked over our land,
filled my lungs with sun and blue sky.

For a moment, the emptiness disoriented me.
But far from the dread that had overcome

Mama when she first saw Minnesota’s
unbounded prairie, I relished

the grassland’s openness, its freedom,
its unharnessed energy.

I knew I could grow a family there,
in that earth, under that sun.

      I am made for this place,
      I thought.

Turning to my new husband,
I smiled.

      Yes, Elof, 
      forever.

_____

Read “Belonging to the Land,” another poem from Linda’s forthcoming book as well as her story about looking for information about her grandma Gedia — “Looking for My Grandparents’ Story.”

Linda is the story gatherer for TreeStories.