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May 22, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Not a Dainty Granny

Before I ever knew her, she was old. Her skin was weathered and sun-browned, her face mapped with crevices and lines. Only her eyes were still young. She had smiling eyes, blue as cornflowers and full of mirth. Once in a while, if the mood hit her, she might step away from the stove where a skillet of cornbread sizzled and dance a jig across the linoleum, and at times like that, her eyes shone like jewels.

Her hair was white, undisturbed by a single strand of color, not that dingy eggshell white, but the white of clouds, backlit by the sun. She would let me brush it out for her, and when I’d take the pins out, it would cascade across her shoulders in a snowy fluff, soft as goose down. When I was through brushing, I’d twist it back up in a tidy bun and add my favorite tortoise shell combs, the ones with rhinestones.

She was not a dainty granny. Tall and raw-boned, she had the sort of heavy frame unsuited for frills and lace. Her daily uniform was a simple, button-up dress of faded cotton and a clean, starched apron. In winter, a man’s flannel shirt kept the cold out. The soles of her feet were as tough as leather from going barefoot, her hands, calloused from heaving buckets of coal in to feed the stove and fireplaces. She’d been poor all her life, but that was no excuse for dirt. “If you just have a pot, a dish and one dishrag, keep them spotless,” she declared.

She churned her own butter, washed her clothes in lye soap, and hung them outside to dry. Her pantry was always full, her kitchen, warmed by the wood-burning stove, where she fried chickens straight from the henhouse and baked biscuits from scratch. Crispy, fresh pork and red-eye gravy were on the breakfast menu, and for me, sweet rice. For special treats, she’d whip up popcorn balls made with molasses and her fried hand pies of dried apples. She never ate in a restaurant, had no clue what a chef did, but no one ever left her table without loosening a belt buckle.

She was born when the Wild West was real. She never learned to drive, never owned a telephone or wrote a letter, but somehow, there was always a crowd at her house and a slew of children playing in the yard. When people dropped in, they were welcomed with laughter and home-cooking. “Ya’ll come in and eat a bite,” she’d say, and the party would begin.

I loved sitting with her in the porch swing, hearing her tell of raising her brothers and sisters at the age of six, after her mother died. She was a mother before she got through being a child. We’d sit, watching the stars come out, listening to the frogs and crickets, and she’d sing some mournful ballad, like “Pretty Polly.”

I courted Pretty Polly the live-long night

I courted Pretty Polly the live-long night

Then left her next morning before it was light.

Polly, pretty Polly, come go away with me,

Before we get married some pleasure to see.

He led her over the fields and the valleys so wide

Until pretty Polly, she fell by his side.

Oh Willie, oh Willie, I’m afraid of your ways

I’m afraid you will lead my poor body astray.

Pretty Polly, pretty Polly, your guess is just right

I dug on your grave the best part of last night.

She threw her arms around him and trembled with fear

How can you kill the poor girl that loves you so dear?

There’s no time to talk and there’s no time to stand

Then he drew his knife all in his right hand.

He stabbed her to the heart and her heart’s blood did flow

And into the grave pretty Polly did go.

He threw a little dirt over her and started for home

Leaving no one behind but the wild birds to mourn.

When I spent weekends with her, I’d sleep in the back bedroom on winter nights, sinking into her feather bed to watch the firelight dance on the walls and ceilings. “If your feet get cold in the night, just lay ‘em up against my old back,” she’d say. I’d snuggle deeper into the mattress, smelling the scents of lye soap and sun in her patchwork quilt, and finally drift off, her nearness a comfort to me.  And awaken to the sizzle of bacon and the sound of her singing.

She lived hard from the day she was born, and believed in God, switching naughty children, and growing what she ate. My dad’s mother was not a dainty granny.


Leave a Comment
  1. Wonnie / May 22 2012 3:02 pm

    There are times when I read your wonderful stories that I can hardly keep the tears away. It sometimes feels like you have the ability to look into my hearts to my memories of my dear sweet great grandma. There are many differences but when you touch on the ones that are similar it is almost like I am 12 year old again watching her make chicken and dumplings or some other wonderful dish. Please don’t ever stop writing, your talent is to great.

    • hippiechickamblings / May 22 2012 3:47 pm

      How kind of you to comment, and I am honored that you could relate to my words! Those who’ve left us never truly leave, and if I touched you even for a moment, I feel blessed. Also, you may be just a bit biased.

  2. Kathy / May 25 2012 11:04 am

    Wow reminds me of my own grandmother…. Love this.

    • hippiechickamblings / May 25 2012 11:48 am

      Thank you so much for stopping by to comment! So you had an Un-danity” grandmother, too? Aren’t they fabulous? My granny passed away years ago, but her memory keeps her alive, forever!

  3. tdhenson / Jun 1 2012 1:34 am

    She past away before I was old enough to get to know her but an “undainty” grandmother is how I imagined her to be. Because her daughter is my granny and so is she.

    • hippiechickamblings / Jun 1 2012 7:27 am

      N!ow that I think of it, your granny is much daintier!

      • hippiechickamblings / Aug 20 2013 7:58 am

        Your Nana sounds amazing! This world has been nurtured and powered by strong women like this! She would make a fantastic character in a novel!

  4. Ruth / Aug 20 2013 12:13 am

    Loved this so much! My 5ft, nothing tall Nana was sweet and gentle, her sister, also 5ft nothing, was my undainty auntie! She brought up a family of seven-little mother- as her mum died in childbirth. She pushed a genteel sister through the dramas of life and got her educated and looked out for all her life. She got my shy Nana, and shyer Grandad to get make a decent life for themselves amd cared for my mum and uncle when Nana was I’ll. She trained as a nurse, went to WW11, came back on shipboard with prisoners from Changi pow camp, and worked as a night Matron until she was in her 70s….no patients ever had a better nurse! To me she was tough, shining and hard like her name-Ruby-, but also loving, Ferociously generous and caring, introduced me to reading…she had so many books! Sowed the idea of independence for women in my mind and guarded the family like a lion! She turned down many proposals from doctors in her career. She would never give up her independence. I love her, and as I get older realize I am she, and she is me! I teach and have married, but I have those qualities she instilled in me, so my husbands says, and am as proud and delighted with a love worth fighting for as she was.

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