The most random things trigger my memories of her…
Honeysuckle. Carpet sweepers. Aluminum cans. Old McDonald. Funyuns.
Muumuus. Rouge. Iced Oatmeal cookies. Daffodils. The American flag.
Willie Nelson. Linoleum. Pretty rocks. Ceramic frogs. Whistling….
Her official name was Willie Belle Rouk. Her friends called her Billie.
I called her Granny.
As a young child and then a self-absorbed teenager, I had no concept of who she was or what she contributed to my life or how much she loved me, even, until I began having children of my own. But I was at home in her home, and for an incredibly shy and timid homebody who spent the first 10 or so years of my life clinging to my Mother’s skirt, that was saying a lot.
I innocently and thoughtlessly enjoyed the blessing of being her granddaughter, eating her food, playing in her yard, running errands alongside her… and now that I am finally cognizant enough to express my gratitude and to grasp what an amazing woman she was, she is long gone, taken from our lives unexpectedly a decade and a half ago as her heart silently stopped in her sleep.
But I can still thank her. I can still honor her. And this Mother’s Day, as a tribute to her and to my own Mother and my beloved Aunt B, I want to tell you about her, even as I know my childish memories of her will do nothing to truly capture who she was and what mark she left upon this earth.
Long before the organic movement began, when Twinkies were in their hayday and preservatives were considered awesome, my Granny’s house was the place to be. My Mom was a homemaker, but when I began kindergarten, she went back to college, and I began spending half-days with Granny until Mama could pick me and my brothers up after school. Granny’s kitchen was always stocked with the goods: “Sodey-water” (pop), Iced Oatmeal Cookies, those round cookies that were dipped in chocolate on one side and striped with chocolate on the other, Ding Dongs, wafer cookies, tins of shortbread cookies…
And that was just the store-bought stuff. She was an amazing cook, and our entire family gathered in her tiny house more often than not to eat Sunday lunch or to celebrate birthdays or holidays. When we weren’t at our house, we were at her house, and the food was always hot and delicious and plentiful.
But I especially loved my time alone with her. It struck me a couple of weeks ago that, as much time as we spent there, I don’t remember her having one toy for us to play with. But I was never bored. Granny and I would go driving around town and the country highways looking for pretty rocks to take home or aluminum cans to sell. We would go walking down her block, stopping to look at the chickens down the street or to say ‘hello’ to her neighbors. We would sit in the swing in her yard or the glider on her porch or the chairs under her awning and sing “Old McDonald” and watch the world go by. We would hang her clothes on the clothesline, Granny panties and all. We would sweep – OH would we sweep! – her porch and her sidewalk at least once a day. And nearly everyday after my morning school was adjourned we would go to the store, buy applesauce and Funyuns for my lunch, and go back to her house where I would eat on a TV tray and watch Matlock with her and Papa.
There were other shows at other times…The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, Quantum Leap, Hee-Haw, Austin City Limits…we spent a lot of time in her small living room watching shows together. I sat Indian style on the blue couch next to the wall, my Papa sat in his recliner facing the TV and Granny sat in her chair next to his, seperated by a small path into the living room.
Their house layout was a circle – the kitchen went into the living room that went into the guest room that went into the bathroom that went into Granny and Papa’s room that went into the kitchen – and I would walk laps with my Papa as he did his daily exercise, toting his oxygen tank with him. I made it my goal to pass by him as many times as I could, the old floors of their house shaking under my feet. He was walking for his life; I was finding something quite fun to do, and I think we both enjoyed it very much.
When my brothers came home from school or football practice, many of their friends came with them, sitting around Granny’s table, eating snacks, having unlimited Sodey-waters. They were at home there, too, and that’s why so many people in our town simply knew her as “Granny”. She was their’s, too, and it made us proud to share our precious belonging with the world and to see how comfortable our friends were in her presence.
It didn’t hurt that she lived right across from the football field. We would go to her house early on Friday nights to claim a good parking space and eventually meander over to watch the games. But when the winter set in and the cold was too much for us to bear we would steal back across the street to warm up at her house. Walking into her heated living room on those frigid nights is a vivid memory for me that seems to span many, many years – my child-sized glasses would immediately fog over and soon, a mug of hot chocolate would be in my hands and my fingers would burn and tingle as they thawed out under the heat.
Likewise, I remember coming in on unbearably hot summer days and sitting directly in front of the window unit in the kitchen, the deliciously cold air blowing my sweaty hair away from my face. We would talk into it and sound like robots and had soon forgotten how hot it was outside and perhaps in the rest of the house.
Granny’s house was always spotless, but she was a true lover of junk, and her house was crammed full of knick-knacks with a heavy emphasis on ceramic frogs. My favorite was one that plead my emphazemia-burdened Papa’s case, a frog with a top hat bearing a sign that said “Please don’t smoke. I might croak.”
Yes, so many things come to my mind when I think about Granny…the newspaper clippings and pressed flowers stuffed into her big Bible, her tiny closet with a dozen or so dresses hanging tidily on a hook, her rather terrifying driving, her dog named Sweetie, her chenille bedspreads, her Avon purchases, her fabric-covered box of costume jewelry, her always-stocked cookie jar, her pew at church, her occasional slipping of wind or soft profanity (always followed by a quick “whoops!”), her red pick-up with the customized plate reading “Go, Granny, Go!”…
But with all my memories of her, and all the hilariously funny stories we still tell about her today (I promise I’ll share them someday), my single favorite thing about her is the woman she was that flows so fluidly and beautifully into the women she made.
Even if I had no memories of her at all, I would need only to look at my Mother and my Aunt B to see that Granny was an amazing woman, worthy of praise and honor, for she bore and raised two of the most industrious and gentle women I’ve ever met. Compassionate, humorous (lots of times on accident, sometimes on purpose), hard-working, talented, self-sacrificing, dutiful, faithful, patriotic, and brimming with love for their family. Just like Granny, they hop to it all day long, living for the ones God has given them to. They pour themselves out for us, just like she did for them…just like I hope to do for my own children.
It is a beautiful thing to be cradled for life by women who nurture and unconditionally love you; in their presence, you feel 100% adored, and completely at rest. The minute you cross the threshold into their home, your heart sighs and you don’t need any distractions (or toys!) to keep you happy. You’re with the women who know you. You’re home.
On this Mother’s Day, I will be thinking of Granny, missing her, wishing my husband and my children could have known her…
But the women who knew her best, who grew up under her ministrations and learned by her hand, are still with me, carrying her best characteristics, and passing them on to me and to my daughters.
In them both, I see her.
It’s no wonder I remember Granny so well.