Tag Archives: grandmother

My Cloak of Comfort

Yesterday, I heard a story of a woman similar to me.

This woman quit her job and moved away with her husband, who like mine, traveled a lot. In the past few years since the move, she found it more and more difficult to find employment in her new home base. So, she decided to move back to her old town and find employment. She was quickly hired but had to leave her child behind with her mother.

Hearing this story, filled me with envy. I felt selfish and resentful. I imagined myself moving back to Virginia and rejoining my former boss in our dynamic duo of design loveliness. This imagining quickly dissipated as the reality set in.

I love my children. I am fiercely protective of them. I cannot and will not relinquish their care. The other challenge in this overblown dream is that I no longer have my mother. My sister lives in Washington state, and my father lives in Tennessee. I have no one to come to my rescue if I were to decide to pursue such a dream.

We walked the halls of both of my children’s schools today. They were energized, but also reluctant. It was a bittersweet day. As the constant heavy rain fell, it seemed so apropos. We need it, but it still saddens us.

Just as I felt helpless, my book of womenfolks beckoned me. As I sat in the parking lot, waiting for my son to finish soccer practice, I read this passage:

“Every Friday, Viola and Frances (my mother) started the morning at The Beauty Shop. Dorothy would wash, tease and spray the mothers’ heads. It took hours.

In that time, my sister and I would spin in the salon chairs, bask in the dry heat of the hair dryers and hear the latest gossip. We loved Fridays.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Belk department store to browse. Here, my sister and I would play in the circular racks. My mom bought my first training bra at Belk.

From there, we would make our way to the grocery store, White Store. At the end of the first aisle, there was a Coca-Cola machine.

For 25¢, we would get an ice-cold Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. After a few sips, my grandmother would slip me 10¢ to go next door to pick a candy from the 5 & Dime.

I always went for the huge sour apple lollipop. It woke my cola-cleansed tongue with a stinging sour.”

Recalling the sheer joy of those days, on a day like today, was like the womenfolk in my life wrapping themselves around me. They were telling me that the sadness I felt, the loss of self, wasn’t that at all. It was the beauty of life and being one of them.

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Womenfolks

In the summer of 1996, just days before our plane took off for Rwanda, I bought a book called Womenfolks: Growning Up Down South by Shirley Abbott. This book became my guide to the women in my life.

It is a book filled with the stories of Southern women, poor Southern women. It comforted me in the days I spent, lonely in Kigali. Days I wished I could hear my own mother’s Southern drawl. I imagined my grandmother’s mother teaching her how to be motherly, how to garden and how to take care of her man.

These Appalachian women are my history. Some would argue that I could seek out another history … one where I was still from a poor family. One where a mother taught a daughter to garden or to take care of her man. Same story, different country.

My daughter asks about the history of the women in her life. She has been robbed of the stories my mother could have told her, so it is left up to me to relay them. The good, bad and funny.

She asks for them to be told and retold. So, I have started a journal to record the history that I feel is my history and hers. The history of the women in my life. 

Here’s my first entry about my grandmother, Viola:

“Viola worked at Bryant Town Motel, owned by the son of Ed, her youngest brother. She worked there cleaning rooms with her sister Beula. Beula was her best friend. 

In the early days before this job, women didn’t reveal their pregnancies until they began to show. When Viola and Beula were pregnant at the same time, one revealed to the other that she had missed her time, to which the other said, ‘Me, too!’ 

Viola was pregnant with my mother, and Beula was pregnant with her cousin, Tommy. (There is a sad story about Tommy’s death.) 

Viola and Beula cleaned rooms at the motel later in life, after jobs at Stokely’s, a canning plant in town. Viola’s husband had retired from Enka – a metal smithing plant. I still wonder why she worked at the motel. 

Her husband had bouts of abusive behavior. Was she happy to be away? She enjoyed hanging out in the motel rooms with her sister. 

In the summers when I visited, she would take me along. I was given a bag of Bugles from the vending machine, and I played with toys left by those whose brief stay had left them – unintentionally. I imagine the guests remembered them when they were too far away to retrieve them.  

I loved entering a room and looking under the bed … anticipating what surprise was awaiting my discovery.  

I spent my summers with my grandmother. They were filled with bean shelling, berry picking and canning. The large garden in the back gave my grandparents their food for the year. Only staples were bought at the grocery store on Fridays.  

My last summer as an only child, my parents and I left in the morning to return to Kansas. I remember crying hysterically as I looked out the back window of the car. I screamed, ‘My grandma, my grandma!! My grandma, my grandma!!’ as I reached for the glass of the back window. My tear-filled eyes watched my grandmother growing smaller and smaller.”

 

Mother Made

Rows of fresh orchids in plastic shells lined the shelves of the White Way Five and Dime. We picked each up and examined it. We were looking for the perfect red one …

Red symbolized life, and white for death. On Mother’s Day Sunday, we chose our best dresses and proudly wore the red orchids. A simple flower meant immeasurable, unconditional love. That same Sunday, we would take my mother and her mother, my grandmother, out of eat at a sit-down restaurant. This was a treat for everyone as we usually gathered at my grandmother’s on Sundays for lunch. Mother’s Day also included a visit to my grandmother’s mother’s gravesite.

My mother also saved the handmade cards we made as children for her. No Hallmark would do.

Today, I despise the lead up to Mother’s Day.  I get confused and angered by the numerous commercials that urge us to buy, buy, buy to show our love for our mothers. I’m angry in that my mother is not around to see me proudly wear a red flower or to share a special dinner with her grandchildren.

My last visit with my mother before her stroke, she had flown to Colorado to visit me in November of 1998. With her, she brought Kerr jars of canned green beans (immediately and proudly displayed over the window in the Thanksgiving photograph below). Proudly, she said, “I learned to can green beans on my own! I really wish I had learned from your grandmother, though.” It was times like this that my mother would get somber. Her last memory would crop up.

“You know, the worst thing I remember?” she would start, “I was cleaning up Mama’s kitchen, and I opened the Crisco. There inside, I found her finger marks.”

I imagine them today. Deep crevices in the Crisco. Grandma used her hands when she cooked. She didn’t have all the special gadgets that we have today. She didn’t measure but learned from her mother that biscuits took “about this much.”

So today, I celebrate the beans. The last jar has moved with me from Colorado to Maryland to Virginia and now, Wisconsin. I doubt I will ever open them. They represent the love and the loss.

I never learned how to can, but I plan to try canning tomatoes this summer. (My mother did learn the art of canning tomatoes from her mother, but I did not learn from her.) Repeated mistakes.

I can make her pinto beans and ham hocks, and her cornbread.  Again, no fancy measuring devices. Just eye-balling it.

I do enjoy the quiet time in bed with my own children as we cuddle on Mother’s Day. Our tradition is a breakfast in bed, and I love that.

If you could wear that red flower on Sunday, I encourage you to learn from her, and I plan to teach my daughter the art of mothermade.