Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Golden Years

My grandmother will be 88 years old in June. When I visited Houston last weekend, I stayed with her on Friday night. When we went to bed, she said, "Sleep as late as you want."

Unfortunately, whether I'm with my kids or not, 8:30 a.m. is about as late as I can manage sleeping (and late is usually closer to 7:30 a.m.). With the one-hour time change, that moves everything back an hour as compared to Eastern Time, so I wasn't worried about sleeping too late. I woke up around 6:00 a.m., but did take advantage of the ability to lounge in bed a bit, until I heard Mimi talking to her cat. I got up and hopped in the shower. When I got out, I smelled bacon frying.

"Good morning, Mimi."

"Well, good morning. Nubbin (the cat) kept going back there, wondering why you were sleeping so late. I hope he didn't bother you." (Remember I was up by 6:30, and in the kitchen well before 7:00 a.m.)

We sat down to a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, and biscuits. She's 87 years old, and she's eaten breakfast like this almost every day of her life. Bringing a bite of eggs to her mouth with her right hand, she said, "I was born left-handed. When I was churning butter, I would dance and dance around the churn, so Granny put it up on the table, so I'd have to stand still on a chair when I did it. I guess I was still dancing, because I fell off the chair and broke my left arm." Her arms waved in the air much like that flailing young child's probably did, although now those arms were covered with age spots. The eyes still had a mischevious twinkle, although they were now surrounded by sagging eye-lid skin and deep wrinkles that eight decades had added.

"So you had cows?" I asked, encouraging her to continue.

"Oh, yes. We had lots of cattle, and crops, too. You know we lived in Quanah, Texas, right near the Oklahoma border. In those dust bowl years it was so dry. Bubba and I would take all the cattle down into the riverbed to graze, because there was still grass there.

One time we were down there and there was a mama buzzard going back and forth to her nest, bringing food to her babies. We saw a coyote, and Bubba was worried that it would kill that mama and her babies would die. So, he clubbed it. We tied it up to the horse and dragged it all the way back to the house. We were so proud of that coyote, but Daddy made us drag it all the way back to the riverbed."

She continued to smile and laugh as she told the stories. One led to another--why they were always late to school, how she got a spanking for asking "How's Peg Leg?" when her parents returned from the doctor with her brother, who had gotten a compound fracture when one of the farm carts ran over his leg, and their move from Texas to Mississippi.

"I don't know if Daddy was able to sell all that dusty land, or just give it away, but we moved to Mississippi where Mama's people were. We stayed for a while in town--we were finally town kids!--in the Mississippi Delta. When Bubba and I started to school, they put us both back a grade, because we had just come from a one-room schoolhouse. We had kids as young as four--if you wanted to send your kid to school at four, they wouldn't stop you--and all the way up to the grown ones. But they ended up putting us back where we were supposed to be when they saw that we knew more than some of the town kids."

She laughed again. That led to stories about her brother and uncle who taught school after qualifying right after high school by passing a test, and how they tried to warn her that she wouldn't like it when she decided to study education in college. She taught school for thirty-five years, and loved every year of it, so I guess that they were wrong.

In between the smiles, she would get wistful, thinking of all that she had experienced, "I wouldn't trade anything for those years. We didn't know we were poor. We just enjoyed what we had."


Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

She sounds like an interesting lady!

Katrina said...

This is such a sweet post. I only ever knew one of my grandparents, and she died when I was a child, so I don't have access to these interesting stories from "the olden days." How neat!