The saying "When you marry the man, you marry his family," is so true. I came from an amazing, loving family that included the best grandparents in the world. When I met my husband our wonderful families is something we had in common. He too, had a loving family with the best grandparents in the world. His Mammaw became my Mammaw instantly!!
In 2004, my husband and I moved from town to the country. We lived right across the road from his grandparents. My oldest was 2 years old at the time, and I was expecting my baby girl. She was so excited to have us there close by. I think my son got three homemade milkshakes a day for weeks. She never "popped in" empty handed. She would sit and visit with us. Story after story she would tell. Her laughter and jolly, always cheerful mood was contagious. We so looked forward to her stopping by, and I never minded hearing the same stories over and over. She was never in a rush and always acted as if she had all the time in the world just for you and yours. As she and I visited, she would be feeding my son all the good food she had cooked for him. She always had his favorites.
Soon baby girl arrived, and just 22 short months later number three would arrive and complete our bunch. Now, looking back, I know I would not have survived or kept my sanity without Mammaw. I would say to people then that she was my right hand man. She was, and still is, such a help in raising our family. We have since moved back to town and away from being across the road from her, but she has not let that stop her from doing for us. We come home to cooked food and groceries on our stove. I have found boxes of doughnuts in our mailbox. We go through periods of her supplying homemade zucchini bread, better than any bakery. Any time she stops to visit now the kids run to her. I tell folks she is a rock star to them. One of the children said one time after she had been by for a visit, "I just love that woman!" When I shared with my husband what had been said, he said he remembered feeling that same way about her when he was a kid. You see, she is a great grandmother to my children. She raised her own and never waivered about helping raise the next two generations.
Trying to decide what stories to share has been tough. There are just so many. I have sat and listened to her reminisce about so many aspects of her life. She has told about living at home with her brothers and sisters. She would talk about how she loved to go the Saturday movies as a kid. She loved to tell about her Daddy and the store he ran while she was growing up. She'd tell about when she and Papaw first married. I don't know how many countless times she would talk about cooking for others. I mean big crowds of people!!! Extended family from out of town, and just whoever stopped in. I have heard her (and others) talk about how folks would eat on the back porch because her tiny house would not hold them all. With every story she laughs, and makes it so new like it is her first telling of it. After a lot of thought I think I have narrowed it down to what are some of my favorites. (I've added titles and will try to write them as she would tell them).
"Do what ya Momma say"
She came home from the hospital (after having baby number 2) to stay with her Mom and Dad for a little bit. She said, "I was trying to get the baby to drink some water from a bottle while Larry (almost 3) stood beside me watching. I put the nipple up to the baby's mouth and moved it around trying to get him to take the bottle. He wasn't having it. I said, 'Aaaaaa, take this bottle!' And next thing I know Larry punched the baby in the side of the head and said, 'do what ya Momma say'. I liked to have dropped the baby in the floor, I went to crying and momma went to crying and then Larry went to crying." She just laughs and laughs as she tells this now.
With three children we have experienced a lot of haircuts! On several occasions a real short haircut has reminded Mammaw of this story: "I took the boys for haircuts one time and I tell you that barber peeled them like onions. He just buzzed it all off. We left for home and I knew they were so upset with me over letting the barber do that to them. When we got home they hopped from the car and ran straight for the woods. As I went after them calling their names, I did not hear a peep. I finally saw the top of two little heads sitting in the bushes. They looked like little rats!!! I told them to come out from there. They answered and said, 'we're not coming out of here til our hair grows back'. "
Like an 'ol cow on a flat rock
Mammaw is very good about taking care of others, but she is not the best about taking care of herself. She will hide dealing with her own aches and pains, until something just has to be done. Before I was in the family she had to undergo back surgery. I think it was pretty rough on her. The story she has told me from that experience is the following: " I tell you I don't think I had ever been so happy to be up and out of a bed to go to the bathroom by myself. I went in that bathroom and peed for what seemed like forever. I told that nurse it sounded like an ol' cow peeing on a flat rock!" You don't know how many times I have rushed to the potty about to wet my pants only to sit down and think "like an ol' cow on a flat rock". I laugh out loud every time!
Taking the day off
Mammaw has been married for 67 years this year. During that time she has done a lot of cooking. I have been in the family for 18 of those years, and I can't tell you how many times I have scooted my chair up to her table. She is a fantastic cook and enjoys feeding others. Recently, I had the privilege of just watching her in her kitchen, but this time Papaw was around helping her. I sat silently at the kitchen bar and just watched the beauty of the two of them working together to prepare a meal for their coming family guests. They were so in sync. Not talking really, but instinctively knowing what needed to be done to get the meal on the table. I think one time Papaw may have said, "whatcha need babe?" And Mammaw not stopping what she was doing turns and gives the instructions needed. Directly, Papaw moves about doing whatever she had told him to do. Rhythmically moving in time with one another like they were dancing. So sweet and wonderful to watch, especially with the next story in mind (probably my favorite to hear her tell). Papaw retired from TVA only to work hard everyday on their cattle farm. Now Mammaw had worked in the school lunchroom as she raised her family and later for a dentist in town. But to hear her tell it she had never worked so hard until Papaw retired. "I tell you he retired, and I went to work!!! He expected me to cook him three, big, full, meals a day! He was working me to death. I felt like I was constantly in the kitchen. I'd clean up from one meal and it would be time to start the next one. After a few weeks of that I had about had enough. He came in one evening and he went to fussing (about what exactly I don't remember her saying). I thought to myself, you ol' buzzard I'll show you!!! So the next day I got up before breakfast and I left. I didn't fix any breakfast, I just left. I went up town and got me something to eat. I went and visited with my folks awhile. I found somewhere to have lunch. I just fooled around in town doing whatever I wanted to do. I just took my time meandering around doing my own thing. I was taking the day off." I think I remember her telling she even stopped for ice cream. "I ate again before heading home after dark. When I got home the truck was there and the house was dark. I reached for the door knob to go in and the door was locked! I didn't have a key. We never locked the door! So I gently knocked on the door." (The great thing about Mammaw's stories is how she acts them out while telling them. Here she always shrinks back, making herself smaller as she pretends to knock gently on the door.) Now I don't remember Mammaw saying he let her in, but I know he did. I do remember her saying they didn't talk about it. She said, "he never said a word. He didn't ask me where I had been all day or anything. But he didn't complain about his meals the next day either!! It put an end to that!" Oh! how I have laughed and smiled typing this out. I know I didn't do it justice like her telling it would. She always shakes with laughter the whole way through as she tells this story. A story that always come to my mind on those tough married life days. I think of it and then I think about watching them in the kitchen that day years and years later. It reminds me that marriage is not about sprinting to the finish, it is about the slow and steady pace for the long haul.
"Grandma, toys are not for t'rowing"
So many of Mammaw's stories are about my husband as a little boy. He is an only child and was the only grandchild for eight years. You can imagine how special he was and still is to her. She talks of taking him around town just to "show him off". I have heard him tell about going out to eat with his grandparents and stopping for the toy he wanted in the moment. I know she searched all over creation for a GI Joe hovercraft the year he wanted it. Of course she found it! She is like that for all of her grandchildren. We think she is capable of making the impossible possible. Over the years she has done an abundance of babysitting. My children love to go to her house to stay. I have heard her tell this story so many times. She was keeping her youngest grandson. "I tell you little boys just love action figures. I remember one time when I had Nick he wore me out playing with this little motorcycle guy. He would want the little man on the motorcycle just so so. He wanted the figure's hands to grip the bike's handlebars in a particular way. I'd work the hands on there and give it back to him. He would take it and hold it up to the light. If it passed his inspection he would go off to play with it. Five minutes would not go by before he would need it fixed again. I'd do the same thing, work the hands onto the grips and hand it back to him. He would inspect it. Of course, sometimes it was not good enough to suit him, and he would hand it right back. I bet I put that rider on that bike fifty times!!! He brings it to me just one more time, and I am working to get it like he wants it when I get so frustrated with it that I just throw it across the room. It goes sailing! That kid had the funniest look on his face. And he said, 'Grandma, toys are not for t'rowing'. I tell you I don't think I had ever felt so bad in all my life. I hugged him up and told he was right. I should not have thrown his toy. Grandma was just tired and frustrated." She is usually not laughing when she finishes telling this story. She almost always will add, "I tell you the look on that little fella's face liked to have killed me."
She is Father Time
In hearing and now sharing these stories I have learned how Mammaw cares for others. And in her telling them her intent was never to reflect how she cares for others. She was simply taking the time to remember, sharing her history with me. Her history would be incomplete if I did not share the next story and her reflection as a daughter. We called Mammaw's mother Bobo. She lived to the age of 98, always living at home. Mammaw and her sisters would take weekends about staying with her so her week day sitter could have the time off. One weekend in particular I remember Mammaw taking her turn was a Saturday in October. I was throwing a costume party for all the family members with October birthdays. I really wanted Mammaw and Papaw to make the party since Mammaw celebrates her birthday in October. All week she acted like she was unsure they would be able to make it due to her responsibilities. But at party time they all three arrived!!! Mammaw and Papaw were dressed as Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (complete with cigar) and Bobo was carrying this really long scepter. Mammaw just grinned and laughed as she said, "I just thought I would bring Bobo with us. She is Father Time."
Before I end with my last Mammaw story I want to share one about her that is my own. When my oldest son was four he had pneumonia that caused a pleural effusion. It all started with him vomiting. We thought he just had a nasty virus. Over the course of a few days he improved and seemed over it. But in the wee hours of the morning he woke up with trouble breathing and really distressed. I sat and rocked him til morning light and as the day got started I called Mammaw. I told her I thought I needed to take him to the doctor and thought I would take baby girl too since she had been suffering with a runny nose. Mammaw said she would go with me to help me. (I was nine months pregnant with baby #3). At the doctor's office we got a shock. A very large mass of pneumonia in his right lung. He needed to be admitted to the hospital. As I struggled to carry a four year old who was now screaming with pain in his back, Mammaw took over. She said she would take us on to the hospital, call my husband and take baby girl home with her. For the next ten days I would not see Mammaw or baby girl. The next day our son was taken by ambulance to a larger hospital an hour away. He was admitted to PICU and considered critical. Several days later with our parents, family and friends around us we waited as he underwent a Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS). A couple of days after his surgery my husband returned home to see about baby girl. I was missing her terribly never having been away from her. When he called I could not wait to hear how she was doing. He said she looked like she had gained at least five pounds! I said, "Well, when someone is chasing you with a fork 24/7 wanting you to eat, you tend to eat!" As I lived through the toughest days of my life, I never worried about baby girl. I knew Mammaw and Papaw were taking the best care of her. As other family members offered to help them with her Mammaw would say they were all making it just fine. It was what they wanted to do to help in the situation. She at 77 and Papaw at 82 saw to every need baby girl had, in what must have been a very confusing time for her. To this day, baby girl loves to spend time with them. When she is not feeling well, and not wanting to go to school, she will ask to stay with Mammaw. What comforted then, comforts now.
Every old crow thinks hers is the blackest
As I have tried to capture the heart and soul of this woman through these words and her stories I purposely used a few phrases that Mammaw is known to say. A phrase I have heard her use time and time again is "awww that is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." She will say it about anything or anyone. She tells about calling her momma after her first son was born. She said, "momma, he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." And her Mom (Bobo) said, "awwwww, every old crow thinks hers is the blackest." And she laughs knowing it is true of her. Loving us all and knowing we are hers.