Story Submitted by Sheri Whittington
I remember the crack of light coming through the front door, and the blast of the bright orange porch light as she threw it on when she knew it was us. We often arrived in the wee hours of the morning after a twelve-hour drive. I remember she would always wait up for us. I remember going in that door and feeling all the welcoming warmth of a giant squeeze of a hug and the smell of great southern food on the stove even though it was the middle of the night.
I remember so many times my grandmother saying, “come sit right here” and sometimes it was right next to her for hugs and talking, and sometimes it was just close to her while she went about chores and activities. Among many other things, she taught me to crochet. She also let me help her in the kitchen. She was a very fair, honest teacher and there was no sugar coating. I knew I was deeply loved even though I was one of 29 grandchildren.
I remember hearing so many stories. There was always a new one to tell and an old one to remember. The big full family loved to reminisce and laugh. I remember hearing that my father, who was the youngest boy of ten surviving children was the most promiscuous. This reputation earned him the coveted seat right next to my grandmother at church each Sunday morning while she played the organ. All the stories agree that my grandmother could “pinch a plug” out of you for misbehaving and never miss a note on the keys and pedals of the church organ.
I heard many times the story of my parents getting married at midnight by the Justice of the Peace over the July 4th weekend of 1960. My father was a Marine, home on leave wearing his Dress Blues. My mother wore a borrowed dress of light blue with tulle, and my mother’s maid of honor was 9 months pregnant. I remember my Grandmother always gave them grief that they couldn’t wait one day, or even long enough for her to change out of her shorts and flip-flops.
I remember when in an act of determination and defiance my Grandmother lied about her age to become a Registered Nurse way past the age cut off for nursing school. I remember the traditional white starched uniform, the traditional folded hat, and white polished rubber shoes. I remembered she was a labor and delivery nurse. I remember I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it was a source of pride.
I remember the first time I accidentally opened the bathroom door and saw my grandmother nude. I had a silent and shocked six-year-old reaction to a female body that had weathered thirteen births and a lifetime of extremely hard physical work.
I remember hearing so many stories about all the different jobs and occupations that my grandmother held during her lifetime. She was a true renaissance woman who reinvented herself again and again throughout her life. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, a farmer, a peddler, musician, seamstress, a nurse, and a gift shop owner to name a few. She was ever-evolving to meet the needs of a changing society and her changing family.
I remember my Grandmother taking care of my Grandfather through liver cancer to his death back when there were not many treatments for his condition. I remember when it was my turn to say goodbye to him that even in the sadness, I knew how much love was in that room from everyone present and how it flowed to and from everyone there.
While riding in the car with my grandmother, my brother and our cousin (10 & 12) were cutting up and misbehaving. She warned them twice. They laughed at her warning and she screeched the car to a stop on the side of the country road. Threw the car in park, walked around the front of the car, opened the back door, and told them to “Get out!” She walked back around, got in the car, and drove off! In disbelief, I said “Grandmother!” She said, “they will be fine!” My father went back to get them.
I remember the scandal it caused when my Grandmother wanted to get remarried to an “old widower” as her adult children called him. Some of them wanted her to be happy, some of them wanted her to stay lonely and true to my Grandfather.
I remember the time she was canning green beans and the pressure cooker exploded like a bomb and we cleaned up bits of mason jars and green beans for hours!
I remember when my grandmother had open heart surgery and her grown children and families took over the waiting room. They told stories and jokes and we all laughed for hours as we received unapproving looks from the staff and the other families.
It was summer and I was off from school to take care of her when she came home. I remember having an entirely new appreciation for her mending body that enabled such a full, varied, and sometimes tumultuous life. I remember her telling us that if she knew how bad the pain would be, she would not go through with the surgery and would have “just gone on out!”
The first time I ever saw my husband legitimately afraid was the first time he was a passenger in the car my Grandmother was driving. She had a big old Buick and fishtailed the back of the car into the gravel going up a narrow mountain road.
I remember when we were expecting our first child, we decided not to find out the sex of the baby and wanted to be surprised. My parents arrived before the delivery and my Grandmother had sent us a handmade pale pink quilted blanket and pillow with lace around the edges. My father told her, Mama, they don’t know if they are having a girl or a boy. She said, just take it to her. She is having a girl. She was correct.
Not long after that, she passed away. She left specific instructions with her wishes for her funeral and ceremony. Her church choir sang her favorite hymns, and everyone participated in a full, true celebration of her life.
I remember the time the psychic told me someone “on the other side” was trying to let me know that they were with the spirit of the child I had recently miscarried, and they wanted me to know that child would come to me again and that I was going to give birth to that child in the future. They also wanted me to know that they would be with them and would take good care of them until they returned to me. As I looked puzzled, I remember the psychic telling me they were showing her a pink quilted baby blanket, with pale pink lace around the edges.
I remember wondering which of my two youngest daughters had been with my grandmother. As they grew, it became clear that it was the youngest one. I remember her laughing and telling a story and I thought, that reminds me of Grandma.