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