PRECISELY

Facebook is a repository of both trash and treasures.

Almost every day I find there a golden nugget: a funny story or an inspirational quote that I forward to friends.

Other postings on FB make me cringe. Here is one from www.ign.com.

SUSIE LEE DONE FELL IN LOVE;
SHE PLANNED TO MARRY JOE.
SHE WAS SO HAPPY ‘BOUT IT ALL,
SHE TOLD HER PAPPY SO.

PAPPY TOLD HER, “SUSIE GAL,
YOU’LL HAVE TO FIND ANOTHER.
I’D JUST AS-SOON YO’ MA DON’T KNOW,
BUT JOE IS YO’ HALF BROTHER.”

SO SUSIE PUT ASIDE HER JOE                                                                        AND PLANNED TO MARRY WILL,
BUT AFTER TELLING PAPPY THIS,                                                                    HE SAID, “THERE’S TROUBLE STILL.

YOU CAN’T MARRY WILL, MY GAL,                                                             AND PLEASE DON’T TELL YO MOTHER.
BUT WILL AND JOE, AND SEVERAL MO’                                                           I KNOW IS YO’ HALF BROTHER.”

BUT MAMA KNEW AND SAID, “MY CHILD,
JUST DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.
MARRY WILL OR MARRY JOE.
YOU AIN’T NO KIN TO PAPPY.”

I did not cringe because I am a Holier-Than-Thou who finds no humor in silly rhymes.

I still laugh at Ray Stevens’ funny song, I’m My Own Grandpa.

This poem made me cringe because I was raised in the Ozarks, a place where, as in parts of Kentucky, West Virginia, etc., residents are termed rednecks or hillbillies.

Crude poems like this one are assumed to have come from such people: lazy, unintelligent, ill-mannered, cousin-marrying hill folk.

At one time I was embarrassed because I grew up in the Ozark Mountains.

Today I am embarrassed that anyone bears an ugly label because of where he grew up.

My ancestors were countrified, yes. But they were hard-working, intelligent, trustworthy people for whom I offer no apologies.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my paternal grandmother, Eva (Crotts) James.

Today I am writing about my maternal grandmother, Gracie (Shoemate) Stephens.

Just as my Grandma James’ life was a study in strength, my Grandma Stephens’ life was a study in precision.

Grandma Stephens sewed the straightest stitches in the county. Whether done by hand or by machine, her work was flawless.

Grandma made clothes without using “store-bought” patterns. She looked at a pretty dress worn by another woman, did some calculating, and made dresses like it for herself and her daughters.

When she was a little girl, Grandma was given a threaded needle to practice sewing, but the thread had no knot at the end. Every seam she sewed could easily be pulled out of the fabric.

When her stitches became even and her seams were straight, she knotted her thread and quilted with the adult women.

She showed the same precision in everything she did.

She made flowers from crepe paper and tissue to decorate family graves on Memorial Day.

The silky-smooth chocolate gravy she made had her 16 grandkids licking their plates.

Her cornbread dressing is a family legend. (I have that recipe in Grandma’s handwriting.)

Grandma would have needed to stand on her toes to measure five feet tall.

But she was a giant to me.

She had a keen intellect, was an avid reader, and held firm political views.

In fact, Grandma and Grandpa often disagreed politically.

On election day, Grandpa dutifully walked a mile down a dusty dirt road to the voting site to cast his vote.

An hour or so later, Grandma often traveled the same road and voted for Grandpa’s candidate’s opponent.

We teased them, saying they could accomplish the same thing by just staying home on election day.

As you can see, it is hard for me to write about Grandma without also writing about Grandpa.

My grandparents had seven daughters. No sons.

Five of the girls grew to be loving mothers themselves. One of them was my own mother, of course, and the other four my sweet aunts.

Grandma and Grandpa buried two baby girls, each dying of infections that are easily cured today by antibiotics.

My grandparents were churchgoers.

Their big, red-edged King James Bible had its chapters marked with Roman numerals.

I had to work hard to find chapter 62 of Isaiah in that Bible.

Grandma and Grandpa had access to a traveling library.

A librarian left books on loan at the general store. Then, after a few weeks, she picked up those books and replaced them with others.

Grandpa read every Zane Grey novel the little library offered, and Grandma read novels by Christian authors like Grace Livingston Hill.

They didn’t have much formal education, but they learned from their reading.

If Grandma heard someone say of a topic, “I could care less,” she said, “No, dear, you couldn’t care less.”

(Her habit of correcting grammar alone made Grandma a hero in my book.)

She detested steamy romance shows on television.

TV couples depicted sharing a passionate kiss looked to her “like two people fighting over a piece of meat.”

Grandma was one of those people who didn’t realize how funny her stories about herself were until her listener(s) laughed out loud after hearing them.

One story was about the day she tried to ignite her gas oven’s pilot light with a match.

I can picture her now, stooped low in front of her oven, waving a lighted match under the appliance in search of its pilot light.

The next second, her tiny body landed about five feet behind where it had started, seated on its bum in the next room.

Another one of Grandma’s funny stories is documented by a photo.

A black snake had been stealing eggs from the henhouse.

Grandma tied a fishhook to the end of fishing line, pushed it inside an empty eggshell, and put the eggshell into a hen’s nest.

Mr. Snake bit, and he was caught.

Here Grandma displays her trophy. (This picture is blurry because the snake was swaying, and because the photo is a copy of a copy.)

When Grandma and Grandpa’s girls were little, their house burned. The family was not at home. The only things that survived the fire were a few pieces of furniture and the clothes drying on the line.

A neighbor drove a flatbed truck through the countryside and collected donations of clothes and household items so the family could get back on its feet.

Mom wore to school dresses she had seen classmates wear, but there was no shame in that.

Times were hard.

Grandma and Grandpa planted a big garden every summer. Vegetables were canned or frozen.

Fruit was sliced into pieces and dried on flattened flour sacks on the roofs of the tool shed and smokehouse.

Grandpa worked for years at a sawmill. He came home each evening toting the empty gallon jar he had used to carry drinking water. His blue work shirt was whitened all over by sweat stains.

His lunch he carried to work in a lard bucket: two sandwiches made of biscuits and ham leftover from breakfast.

Not every man was willing to do the hard work required to provide for his family.

Grandpa described such a man this way. “Let’s just say if he had a third hand, he would have needed another pocket to put it in.”

The wives and children of these lazy men benefited from the food and firewood Grandpa took to their houses so they could eat and stay warm.

Grandma was a seamstress and Grandpa was a whittler. They were both masters of their crafts.

I have samples of their work: quilts made by Grandma; and a cedar spoon, fork and knife whittled by Grandpa.

I remember Grandpa smelling of cedar, Lava hand soap, and Old Spice aftershave.

I sat often in Grandma’s kitchen with my eyes closed, identifying by scent the spices in her spice drawer.

Grandma made wonderful meals, but she was no short-order cook. Family and guests ate what was put on the table.

If someone complained about not liking the food, Grandma remained seated and pointed to a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread on a kitchen cabinet top.

In a conversation with relatives recently, I heard one of them remark that Grandma was not especially affectionate.

That statement stopped me cold.

“What?” I thought. “Grandma wasn’t affectionate?”

But upon reflection, I now realize Grandpa was the hugger, the one who swept grandbabies up in his arms and kissed their slobbery, chubby faces.

It was Grandpa who, every weekend I was home from college, came by to see me on Saturday morning, often rousing me out of bed at 10:00 o’clock.

Mom, my baby sister, and I lived with my grandparents when Dad was serving overseas in the Air Force.

Our presence stretched the seams of their little house because my mom’s three younger sisters were still living at home.

There Grandpa existed as the only male among seven squawking, high-strung females.

I remember standing beside their huge brown radio each morning, listening either to a man quoting cotton and soybean prices or to Elvis Presley singing Blue Suede Shoes, depending upon which adult had chosen the station.

I stood by that radio because it sat near the window through which I could look out and yell to my teenage aunts, “The school bus is coming!”

Grandpa spent half his earnings on Bobby pins, saddle oxfords, and face cream for the big girls, and storybooks and crayons for my little sister and me.

But on the day the three of us moved out because Dad had left the military and bought us a house, Grandpa said to Mom, “The only reason I’m letting you take these two little girls away from here is because they belong to you.”

He would have kept us forever.

And Grandma would have too. With fewer hugs and kisses maybe, but with no less love.

A friend who lived near me said she locked herself inside the family car whenever her grandfather visited, so he “couldn’t get at her.”

What did that mean? I wondered when I was a little girl.

Today I know exactly what that meant, and I am beyond furious.

Life isn’t fair.

Why was I born into a wonderful family who treasured me, and she had a grandpa who was a piece of scum and a family who tolerated his vileness?

The answer to that question is unknowable.

But I do know this.

I couldn’t care less where a person comes from.

It’s the people a person comes from who make all the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “PRECISELY”

  1. Thank you for writing this. Reading it brought back so many good memories of growing up with my grand parents. So many kids today don’t have that opportunity or they don’t have the kind of grandparents we did.
    My maternal grandparents were much like yours. Wen we went there, grandma “planted” 3 pieces of corn candy in our mouths; made special little jars of current jelly for our birthdays, and just loved us. You’ve seen the scrapbook she made for me – something that didn’t cost much yet it is priceless.

    1. Thanks, M.L., yes, being able to say of one’s grandparents they “just loved us,” is the best thing we can say. Parents and grandparents show it in different ways, but it is unmistakable to the child who experiences it. I am glad you and I were both so blessed.

  2. Wow. This post made me cry! I loved grandma and grandpa so much! Wonderful, faithful, and loving they were! I’m beyond thankful to have had them as my grandparents. And I’m thankful to have a talented sister who has taken the time to write about them. ❤️

  3. This was one to savor, Debbie. Your grandparents reminded me of my folks and my mom’s parents, especially the voting part. Great writing with immense insight!

  4. Oh, Debbie, what a treasure of a blog post. I can picture you writing this with joy in your heart, and maybe even a few tears. This brought back precious memories of my own grandparents and all of the stories, some of which I experienced myself. We all need to be writing these kinds of memories down to preserve them. If not, the stories are lost as each generation passes on.

    1. Becky, thank you for your kind words. My grandparents were such blessings! They set good examples and simply loved me. They showed me that happiness does not depend upon having the best, the latest, the greatest, the most impressive, the costliest . .  of anything. When my grandpa and I played Chinese checkers and ate popcorn together, I was the happiest kid around.  I don’t want to get onto a soapbox, but I am sad when I see grandparents and grandchildren together and the children are playing on their electronic devices. 

  5. Absolutely lovely 🙂 My grandfather and his wife (whom I consider my grandmother) were two of the most loving people. They weren’t big on hugs and kisses (except for the holidays), but we knew beyond a doubt how much we were loved and treasured. God Bless!

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