My paternal grandmother had seven brothers and six sisters. She was somewhere in the middle in terms of age. Her father was a Baptist preacher. She never wore pants - skirts and dresses only. She wore her wedding ring, a watch, and a necklace - no other jewelry. She was a sweet lady and, to my knowledge, openly criticized no one. She and my grandfather paid cash for their car (they shared one) and drove it for at least four or five years before trading it in and getting another. They had no debt and were excellent managers of money, very thrifty. They had three children: Cora, Wes, and Lea, Wes being my dad, the blacksheep.
So, one day I stop by to visit. I saw Grandmom by the fence at the rear of her yard. She was tossing things over the fence. Initially thinking she was throwing food scraps for the foxes and deer and wild dogs (they lived in the country), I didn't think much of it. The car was gone, so Granddad was not there. I opened the gate and started walking to her. Soon, I noticed that she was throwing jewelry, trinkets, and other knick-knacks over the fence. There were things like those collectable plates and stuff that you see on tv. "Where the hell did all of that stuff come from?" I remember thinking. My grandparents lived a simple life, adorned with the aroma of great cooking, the sounds of family and friends and old southern gospel music and bluegrass, and tales and photographs of long-ago family adventures. Adorned with little else - nothing else, really. It was one of the things that always enthralled me: thinking of visiting them created a dread of boredom. Then, when I was there, I never had time to be bored. I was interested, relaxed, surrounded by living history and love.
"What are you doing, Grandmom?"
"Throwing out the trash, hon."
"In my house it is."
"It looks like new stuff to me. Where'd it come from?"
"I have no idea. I was cleaning the house this morning and found it."
"Where'd you find it?"
"Some of it was in my jewelry box. Some was on the shelves in the den. Some was still in boxes under the bed."
"Really? How'd it get there?"
"Goodness! I don't know, but I will find out - probably Claude or one of your aunts' jokes."
It was odd that she didn't stop to hug me, or offer me a slice of cake, as she always had a fresh pound cake or something. Still, I didn't think much about it. I was 19, just trying to be a better grandson than I typically was during that time. Later, after I got her inside, after she emptied three more boxes, I had that slice of cake. Then, Granddad got home. He treated her more gently, with much greater care and concern than I had remembered. Later, he asked if I could help him move some concrete blocks out back.
We moved four blocks before he asked the question. "How has your Grandmother been?"
He has seen her much more than me. Hell, I haven't been here in three weeks. I still couldn't get my head around it all. "Well, she was throwing out a bunch of stuff when I got here - out there, by the persimmon tree, over that fence. You can see it from here."
We walked over there, and he shook his head once and looked at me.
"You know, she bought all that stuff."
"Yeah. That QVC channel or whatever it's called. All our lives we were fine with just the free channels. Two months ago we get cable, and she starts buying junk - stuff she will never wear, doesn't like, has no need for, no gifts for anyone. I think she's losing her mind. I'm not saying it's the tv's fault, but it sure makes ya wonder."
She was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's and died four years later.
My maternal grandmother is dead, too. Natural causes, old age, living too long with just one lung. Seriously, there's a funny story about that. She caught me smoking when I was 17. She pulled me inside and told me. "I know what it's like to live with one lung. I worked in the cotton mill all my life and lost a lung to brown lung disease. Now son, that's what will happen to you if you keep on smoking. You see how hard it is for me, having one lung and all. You best quit now while you can."
I never knew she had just one lung. She went swimming with us in the summertime. She worked. She cooked. She never went to the doctor as far as I know. She just went to the hospital 14 years later and died. I asked mom one time, years after that incident. She said she never knew her mother only had one lung either.
Then there's Seth, my youngest son. My ex, Hamilton, brings him to the office so that we could go to lunch. It's a new job, and my coworkers have not met my children yet. Seth was almost four. He is a walking, breathing, real-live cherub - with character - lots of it. The dean and her assistant are standing at my office door, enjoying conversing with Seth. I am talking to Hamilton about some work that needs to be done to the house. Then I hear "Pull my finger."
I cringe, jerk hard on the reins of laughter that are so close to pouring forth uncontrollably. I look up and see that Seth has stuck his right index finger out toward the dean. She is laughing nervously as she pulls it. Seth lets loose a melodious, loud fart and starts laughing as he runs into my office. The dean and assistant are laughing, and that's good because it seems genuine. I look at Seth. "Who taught you that?" Because I know it wasn't at home, and I didn't do it. "Oh, Daddy... Gran-gran taught me that."
For the record, that is her mother, not mine. Unfortunately....