Grandma and me circa 1967.
Grandma was, for all intents and purposes, my other Mama. I’m told that when I was very small, I referred to her that way.
She was raised in a family of ten children, the majority of whom graduated from college during a time when that wasn’t so prevalent in our neck of the woods. Grandma graduated from Carolina College for Women in 1917 with degrees in teaching and business. She had a good head for the subject. She managed the upkeep of her farm and kept the books for my father’s electrical business until a severe heart attack she suffered at age sixty-five forced her to retire. I use the word retire lightly.
Several years ago, one of my cousins gave me a letter that Mama had written to her shortly after Grandma’s heart attack.
Mama refuses to slow down. She still gets up at the crack of dawn and works in that garden for two or three hours a day. I’m afraid that I’ll go out there one morning and find her dead body amongst the tomato plants.
As it turned out, Grandma lived five years longer than Mama did.
We lived with Grandma until Mama and Daddy built a home across the road in 1964. When we moved into the new house, I was upset about leaving Grandma. I used to get up early in the morning, walk across the road and have breakfast with her. I can still remember her open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches, because she’d always put a pinch of sugar on the cheese.
Grandma was my first teacher. When my brother and sister went off to school every day, I’d take my little chalkboard to Grandma and say, “Teach me.” I learned how to read and write before I set foot in public school.
Grandma was the matriarch of her family. Even before her oldest sister Mamie died, Grandma was the one that everyone came to for advice and counseling on all kinds of matters from financing to funeral plans. She was a person who helped many people through difficult times in their lives.
Her great grandchildren remember her as being mean, because she was strict, and she believed in discipline. I remember her saying, “If you have children, remember this: When you finish with them, the rest of the world has to live with them.”
She was stubborn, knew how to get her way and was even a little eccentric, but she was also an incredibly generous woman. I would prefer that her ancestors remember her from a story my mother told me when I was in junior high school.
I was looking through the old family photograph album—the one Grandma had kept since she was married in 1921. Scattered in among Uncle Ott and Mama’s baby pictures were photos of an African-American couple. In one photo the woman was holding Mama. I asked Mama who they were.
“That’s a couple who lived with us for a while,” she said. “During the Depression, they had a little farm up the road from us and lost it for a small debt that they owed to one of the stores in Laurinburg. Your grandma took them in, and they stayed with us until she could find work for them and a place to live.”(Recently, a friend of mine said that he was researching his family history and came across a 1930 census that listed the McAdoo's as members of Grandma and Granddaddy's household.)
Mama told me about other people that Grandma had helped. During World War II, she’d gone to selective service (the draft board) and pleaded the case of a young man whose widowed mother couldn’t afford to lose even one of her two sons. As a result, he was deferred from service. Grandma also helped them financially until they could get along on their own.
At the back of Grandma’s house there was a walk-in closet that could’ve been called Pack Rat Heaven. As a little girl, making a discovery in that room gave me a feeling known only to people like Francisco Pizarro when he came upon the Inca in the jungles of Peru.
As much as my brother, sister and I plundered and pillaged that room as children, we knew that we could only go so far. It wasn’t until after Grandma died in 1980 that all of the contents of the closet were uncovered. We found photograph albums from her college days. We laughed at how Grandma tried to hide her face in the pictures. Like Mama, she hated to have her picture taken. (In the photo above, notice how she refused to look straight at the camera.) One set of photographs showed Grandma as the school May Queen. She stood in the center next to the May Pole while the other girls danced in a circle, wrapping her with ribbons that were attached to the top of the pole.
To our surprise, we learned that she’d had a boyfriend during her college years. She’d never talked about having any boyfriends during that time. He was a dashing young man in World War I army attire, but no name was written on the back of the photograph. We’ll never know who he was.
We came across two items from her childhood that told us things we’d never known about her. One of them was the diary she’d kept as a child. On the day in 1903 when her father brought home the first family car, she wrote, “Papa bought a brand new automobile. We don’t have to ride in the wagon to school no more.”
Then later that same year, their first telephone was installed. “Now we have a telephone just like Uncle Hugh,” she wrote. “Mary [her cousin] and I stayed home from school and talked on it all day long.”
That entry came as no great surprise. Eighty years later, Grandma and Mary could still talk on the phone for hours at a time. My sister used to tease them about gossiping.
“We’re not gossiping,” Grandma said. “We care about those people, and we’re trying to think of ways to help them solve their problems.”
The other item we found, tucked away in an old box of books, was an elementary school spelling primer in which Grandma had drawn a picture of her teacher as an old witch with long, stringy hair and a big wart on the end of her nose. The picture was accompanied by some unflattering remarks about the teacher’s character. What a gem to find. My ladylike grandmother, the font of wisdom and paragon of virtue had once been a typical, rambunctious child.
If you want to read more about my Grandma, visit Smashwords.com or Barnes and Noble.com to download a FREE ebook copy of The Life & Times of a Boomer Baby.