Friday, August 5, 2016

GRANDMOTHER'S BIRTHDAY


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.

Grandmother was a small woman---no shorter than I, but extremely thin. Her wrists showed the knobs of her bones, and her watch and rings turned circles and would have fallen clean off if not for the wider bones of her hands, and the great knots arthritis had grown on her fingers. The lavaliere-which-had-been-her-Mama's hung across her bony clavicles no matter what the occasion and the dress, and the amethysts twinkled, even as we knelt and squatted in the bean rows in that hot Delta sun.


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.


Grandmother and Papa lived in a really small mobile home---the thing was a work of art, with its miniature everything, and the walls, floors, ceiling of beautiful blondish wood, polished to the slick sheen of a Last Supper clock. It was one of the last of a breed, I suppose, before the RedMans and the Fleetwoods turned from their “real house” decor in those long, slender quarters, to the newer constructions of thinner and flimsier materials, which grew bigger and bigger til some of them were banned from the highways. That little “trailer” was sound as a nut, and really beautiful, in a jewelbox/dollhouse sort of way.


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.


11 comments:

Kathy said...

What a lovely tribute to your grandmother. I feel as if I know her now. I always enjoy reading your blog. Your writing is just outstanding.

BeachGypsy said...

I loved reading it too! Your stories really take me back.....bemack to my own Ma-maw and the biscuits and gravy on the yellow chrome dinette set--- every morning for breakfast. Sizzling pork chops in that big black iron skillet for supper along with fried yellow squash and fried "taters". It was all so good wasnt it? And for dessert if i was lucky---- a big tall coconut cake frosted with the sweet white "icing" and dusted with coconut. The grown-ups would have coffee with theirs.Made in a noisy little percolater. I can remember that little kitchen like it was just yesterday. Food memories can really take us back Cant they?

BeachGypsy said...

Back--- not "bemack" ha ha ha

donna baker said...

I only saw one grandmother from Louisiana maybe five times and the one that lived closest was mean as hell. Love that you have such wonderful memories of yours. I try to be a good grandmother to mine, but I don't know how that is going. They are nearly at the age where the last thing they want to do is stay with Nonna. Glad you have such fond memories.

Chronica Domus said...

Charmingly written as always. You always manage to take your fortunate reader into your world with vivid imagery and beautiful words.

The description of your grandmother's hands reminded me so much of my own granny's fragile pair. She was always sewing, knitting, crocheting or cooking something and I never saw her idle.

Patsy said...

What a lovely story and that corn bread looks delicious. Will have to show that to
my Bennie the cook he will love that. Thanks for the birthday wish, I am not as old as your grand mother but just maybe some one in the future will remember me the way you lovingly remember you grandmother.

Beverly said...

Dear, dear, dear Rachel. I hope you know that even during the times I am an absent visitor, I am always holding your ever so close in my heart.

I loved reading every word about your grandmother. Yesterday would have been the birthday of my Uncle Jack. He was number two of my daddy's brothers - my daddy was number four, the baby, and the most loved by each of his brothers. Uncle Jack was the last to die, and I miss him. I tried to called and chat with him every week. He was, for me, a connection to my daddy.

I must tell you that I laughed aloud as the following excerpt of your post: 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. You could have written each word about my mother. And, I mean every single word. Although, my mother would prefer the Poor Dear part to my because I am much more of a "suck it up and move on" kind of daughter. My mother has been blessed with good health in her lifetime - with only having some minor arthritis. Unfortunately, the type of dementia she has contributes to her no longer being a happy and satisfied person.

Sending love from me to you - always, always.♥♥♥

bj said...

hahhaa...so many people I know had the same attitude about health as your dear grandmother...one of my very best friends dearly loves to talk about what ails her...she is the gentlest soul ever, tho, and those of us who love her just look past it.
I do love your stories...I am much older than you and my grandmothers would have been in the 30's and 40's...both died before I was born so instead of grandmothers, I had some of the best aunts in the world.

harleygirl said...

What a great post! Your grandmother sounded wonderful. And the imagery you paint with your words...I felt like I was right in her home with her. Thank you for sharing these great memories with us all. :) I hope you're doing well. I'm sorry I don't make the rounds a little more, but I do think of you often. :)

organicgardendreams said...

Hi Rachel, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! That's how I found yours!
What a lovely tribute to your grandmother, I was really touched by reading it. I also reminded me how much food forms memories. I hope I get to host tea parties for my friends and my mom, soon.
Warm regards,
Christina

Kim S. said...

Wonderful post! I, too, had a grandmother who "enjoyed ill health". Back in those days you could just check yourself into a hospital, like it was the Hilton and she did that a lot! She was also the grandmother that introduced me to movie stars - to this day, I know more about Clark Gable and Carole Lombard than I do about my generation of stars. I loved her and miss her and her quirks!