Monday, December 29, 2008
The other night, Jason posted about some of the highs and lows in 2008 and his expectations for 2009. In his post he wrote about his grandmother who past away this year. I was so moved by that section that I decided to do the same and share some of my favorite memories with my beloved grandmother who passed away in May of 2006.
Her name was Laura Kelly. I was named after her. She forbade my sister and me to call her anything "Grand-" so we called her by her middle name. Except, when you are two years old words don't come out right and "Kelly" was pronounced "Keh" and the name stuck our whole lives. Keh lived in the same house she was born in Hayneville, AL her whole life, except for a few years she lived and worked in Birmingham when she was employed by the Board of Education. My sister and I loved, I mean really loved, going to spend the night with Keh. Her house was full of old knick knacks that she let us be free to explore. One of our favorite games to play was "train station." Mere and I would used ticket stubs from the laundry mat and an old gadgety stamp that made this wonderful ching noise when you pushed down to mark the day of the week and date. I also loved to play salon with Keh. She would let me put curlers in her hair and bright red Elizabeth Arden lipstick on her until it ran out. She would also let us wear her satin nightgowns to bed when we stayed. We slept in my mother's room under an electric blanket that smelled like powder and moth balls.
She would wake up at 4 in the morning when it was still dark outside and sit at the kitchen table drinking coffee and smoking Pall Mall 100's. Her kitchen always smelled delicious - like hickory smoked bacon, hot grease, and cigarettes. She let us help her cook but when it came time to eat the portions she gave to us seemed so small. Once when I was in 6th grade she pinched the back of my chubby arm and told me I eat too much. It hurt my feelings but I loved her so much that it was easy to forgive her instantly. My grandfather, "Big Daddy," was a quiet man. He was a WWII veteran who "never was the same" after he served 4 years in Europe. My mother has the box of letters he would write to her all of the years he was away before he came home and they got married. I remember thinking how cool it was that my grandfather had been to the Fiji Islands and had spelled out the word "Fiji" in bold letters across the telegram so secretly tell her where he was without breaking any rules about giving away the military's locations during their mission. Another reason "Fiji" was cool was because it was the place you could be thinking of to stump your class mates during a game of Mapquest... no one ever knew where Fiji was because it was this little tiny island off the coast of Japan or Australia, I'm not sure. Big Daddy always let us tuck him in bed at night and would give dollar bills and a stick of Juicy Fruit gum as party favors when it was time to go home. And Coke Classic was always served in a glasses with a few cubes of ice and sweat around the glass, makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Keh would walk us down a dirt road behind the house the led to the family cemetary. She showed us her mother's grave, her siblings graves, and I distinctly remember seeing a tiny headstone with a cracked blue angel sitting on top and thinking to myself, "babies die?" We would also pick up pecans and carry them in our t-shirts and shell them when we got home. One day walking back to the house I stood up from bending over to pick up nuts and saw a black man riding bareback on a huge black horse. He tipped his hat to us and probably said something like "hi how are ya?" my grandmother said something like "fine just fine" and my sister and I still laugh about my response looking back up at him, "Whoa..." was all I said. I don't think I had ever seen anything so random and so huge and a big black man on a big black horse just walking down this country dirt road.
Keh lived to be 89 and up until the last 48 hours of her life she was comfortable and completely sane. Nick and I went and visited her at Baptist East one afternoon. I took socks to her because she complained about being cold at night. The next afternoon Mama called me at 9 at night and said, "She's gone." I knew that she wouldn't live forever but nothing can prepare you to lose someone so special as a grandparent... especially someone so perfect that was responsible for so many treasured memories.
One last thing about my memories of Keh... and I always think about this one at Christmas time. For all of the years of my youth Keh would come to Montgomery for Christmas dinner. When I got to be college aged and she was too blind to drive my sister and I would ride to Hayneville to see her. While we waited at the red light at the intersection where Hwy. 82 meets the Southern Blvd. and I65 South, I would roll down the window and give a plate of hot biscuits and sausage to the homeless people under the bridge. We never felt threatened. We felt good about it because while they couldn't be with anyone in a house on Christmas, at least they had a hot breakfast that day. Keh was glad we did it because she wouldn't have eaten all that food anyway. So I miss doing that too.
I have her old furniture and a diamond ring that she left me. She made it to my wedding but I hate, really hate, that she didn't get to meet Harper and Lily. At least I have the family cemetary to go back to see her. Maybe next Christmas we will go see her and take hot biscuits and sausage just in case someone needs a hot meal.