Today would be Grandmother’s 121st Birthday, just four months younger to the day, than my Mammaw. They both had rural hill-raisin's, as they said---childhoods amongst the beautiful and mysterious hills of
North Mississippi. Both were strong country-women, with deep
roots in the South from the generations of Scots and Irish and English
ancestors who rooted a living from that unforgiving red dirt in
Tallahatchie and Lee Counties in North Mississippi.
She had very few wrinkles for a woman of her age, with soft pink cheeks and the palest oyster-blue eyes behind her heavy glasses. She had only a small furrow or two to her brow, though she DID worry. She worried about her health, mainly, and could turn a conversation back to her ailments quicker than you could get in a word past AWWWW, though she DID love the Poor Dear part.
She loved her doctor visits, and dressed in the most beautiful clothes for such an important occasion. When going for even such quick, easy appointments as for her flu shot, she dressed in what she called “from the skin out,”---dainty lacy underthings and a pretty slip (forever called a petticoat, just as the panties were “step-ins”---both from her younger days, though she would probably have whispered the word “panties” just as she did “sex” or “pregnant,” even to her daughters).
I don’t know if her choice of the nice clothing hinged on her own fastidious nature, or the idea that she just MIGHT need to show him, as she held a hand dramatically on the spot, just where the latest pain was. I can remember once that we gave her a beautiful pink jersey jumpsuit for Christmas---it must have been a size ZERO. Her daughters considered it much too young for her tiny eightyish body, though her sons and my family thought she looked as cute as pie in her little tan Weejuns and that tee-ninecy outfit. I can just see her coming out to the car to go grocery-shopping with me. We girls just walked right into Safeway, as big as you please, tossing that Midol and Poli-Grip and our week's groceries into the buggy with the aplomb of ladies of leisure and great refinement strolling through Nordstrom.
The whole inside of the thing was wood, with pale Fifties-Turquoise metal exterior, pink bathroom fixtures, stove, refrigerator, and wee pale teacup-size corner sink in the minuscule kitchen. The whole kitchen counter had the dimensions of a checkerboard, and the central wall of the living room, though pristine and smooth, had no pictures or other hangings, save for the shiny chrome handle up high, which served to let down the Murphy bed when there was company. I loved that place---it was like living in Barbie’s mansion, without all that wardrobe clutter and all those tiny shoes scattered about to catch your bare feet unaware.
Grandmother made divine pie, an absolutely scrumptious tomato soup, pale with milk and cream, and her Christmas Custard was renowned in the family---a huge earthenware pitcher-crock of the creamiest, eggs-and-real-cream confection ever poured into a glass—-a boozeless edition of egg-nog which lifted the concoction to its best self. It’s what you drank with a slice of banana-nut cake or pound cake, instead of tea or coffee, raising those, as well, to unseen heights. I can still hear and quote Papa, “Lorena, if you’ll pour me glass of that custard, I’ll drink it.”
And Grandmother’s cornbread was the best there was. She would fry several slices of bacon in the black skillet, and make up the bread batter with buttermilk and Martha White meal and flour and several deep-orange-yolked eggs straight from the squawky-flap brood you’d threaded your way through to get into the house. She stir the bacon grease in at the last, arrange the flat bacon slices neatly back into the skillet, and carefully spoon on some of the batter, so that when it hit that sizzling hot pan, it would seize up a bit and hold the pattern in place whilst the rest was poured on.
Her hands got too fragile to lift the heavy skillet, so one of us would go sit and chat with her while she made up the batter and fried the bacon. She insisted on “doing all of it I can---til I can’t.” Then we’d lift the skillet into the oven, and, most important---stay and take it out when the “dinger” went off, making for a good long chat---a bonus to the sublime bread. We’d put that big Corning-Ware platter over the golden-brown bread, flip the whole thing upside down, and turn out that gorgeous pan of crusty brown, laced across with the delicious strips of bacon. I can smell that heavenly bready-bacon scent with the golden-toasted cornmeal right now. I haven’t made that in years, but I’ll bet I do, and soon.
She was a lovely, kind woman, and a great part of my life for many, many years; I remember her very fondly. She lived to be almost a hundred---due, I’m sure, to such vigilant watchfulness on her health.