Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My Grandmother

I've been working on this post for two months now, and I still don't know how to begin.  The pastor who officiated Grandmother's memorial service asked us grandchildren to send him a special memory of her or story about her that he would share with everyone.  For the life of me, I couldn't do it.  I write stories on this here little blog all the time, but I couldn't write a little story about my Grandmother.  I finally figured out why.  How do you put nearly 40 years worth of memories and stories into words and onto paper?  How do you talk about a lady who was such a huge part of your life for all those years in a way that truly honors her and who she was and the impact she had on your life?  But as I've continued over the past couple of months to think about her and all we shared together, all that we shared as a family, it all comes rushing back now.  I didn't realize until lately just how profoundly she has shaped my life.

This is my Grandmother.
This photo was taken in the mid-80s, but this is how I will ALWAYS remember her.  The only thing "wrong" with this picture is that she's sitting in Pa's chair and not her own.  I don't know why.  I think it's because she'd just finished handing out our Christmas gifts, and his chair was closest to the tree.  She loved to "dress."  She always wore a blouse with either pants or a skirt.  Usually she wore Etienne Agner heels, but as soon as those came off, she'd put those house slippers on.  She always wore those slippers.  I used to love it on the off chance that she wasn't wearing those shoes when I showed up at her house because I'd run to her closet and put them on myself.  I just loved those shoes. 

She is my grandmother, my daddy's mama.  She's also Grandmother.  That's what she insisted her "grandma name" be.  Grandmother.  She definitely has the longest "grandma name" I know, but it suits her perfectly, I tell you.  And I've always thought it a very good thing that Pa was just Pa.  One syllable.  Grandmother and Pa. 
I was the third grandchild out of eight but the eldest granddaughter.  It'd be three more years before Jennifer came along.  So I have to think she doted over me just a little bit.
I have a treasure trove of memories of just the two of us, conversations we had or special times we shared.  There are two things in particular that I will never forget as long as I live.  I wish I had pictures, but I don't.  I combed Mama's photo albums three times, and I'm just convinced there's an album missing.  Because there used to be pictures.  I just don't know where they are.  I even went to Grandmother house's and looked through all of the boxes under the stairs (that's where she kept all the cards and letters and artwork and things we made for her), but I couldn't find anything.

Anyway.  Grandmother and Pa lived in a huge, old two-story farmhouse.  The "back of the house" was where all the living went on.  The front of the house was the formal living room (which we never used), Aunt Lynne's bedroom, the formal dining room (that seated 12) and the huge foyer.  The upstairs had four bedrooms and another living area in the middle.  But there was plenty of room downstairs for plenty of folks.  And she loved having people over and entertaining.  

In the late 80s, she hosted some kind of meet-and-greet for Grace Hartley, the long-time food editor for the Atlanta Journal.  Mrs. Harley had just recently published a new book.  Grandmother pulled out all the best china and flatware (which wasn't at all unusual).  She put together a delicious little menu of fancy finger foods.  She covered her tables in starched linen tablecloths.  And she asked me to come help her serve the guests!  I was thrilled!  I was also very nervous.  I can remember wearing one of my Sunday dresses for the occasion.  Honestly, I had no idea who Grace Hartley even was, and I certainly didn't know any of the folks who came.  But it didn't matter.  All I cared about was that Grandmother thought enough of me to ask me to come.  She later gave me her copy of Mrs. Hartley's cookbook.  I pulled it off the shelf to look at it, and I'm glad I did because I'd forgotten the note she left for me in it.

On the day of my wedding, Grandmother hosted a brunch at her house for Seth's family and our wedding party.  I didn't get to go to that because I was getting my hair and make-up done, and Seth and I didn't see each other before the wedding ceremony.  I remember going with her to the Hallmark store to pick out the invitations.  They had hydrangeas on them.  I wasn't there, but I'm sure she was the hostess with the mostest at that one, too, and I'm sure she probably used the fine china and even place cards.

There was also the time Grandmother took me to the Fox Theater in downtown Atlanta to see the musical Show Boat starring Gavin MacLeod in August 1992.  (And that's something else, too . . . the TV was always on at Grandmother's house.  She watched 11 Alive news.  We always watched channel 2.  I was always so fascinated to see 11 Alive.  She loved Falcon Crest, Dynasty and Dallas.  Yes, indeed.  I didn't watch those shows at my house.  So I loved to be at her house when they were on, especially Dallas.  She also loved watching The Love Boat.  Gavin MacLeod starred at Captain Stubbing in that one.)  ANYWAY.  I'd never been to the iconic theater before.  Prior to that, I'd never even really been in downtown DOWNTOWN Atlanta before.  But we went, just the two of us.  Grandmother wore a red suit.  And I wore my favorite (at the time) Sunday dress.  We went to a matinee performance.  I can remember standing in the lobby and being absolutely in awe at the opulence of the theater.  And then we took our seats, and I looked up into the "night sky."  I was captivated.  

Most of my memories with Grandmother include all seven of my cousins.  The only thing I don't like about this picture is that Brian isn't in it.  He wasn't born until the following October.  I tried to find one of Grandmother and Pa with all of us grandchildren, but I couldn't.
I love this picture.  And you can see behind us the wedding pictures there on the bottom shelf of the built-in.  She kept wedding pictures of all four of her children right there on that shelf.  

This picture was taken probably ten or so years ago.  Pa was already gone.  Grandmother hadn't yet slipped away from us and into the world of alzheimer's.  But it wasn't too long after this.
She loved family.  She really did.  I think she lived for all the holidays when we would all get together at her house . . . the after-church Easter picnic of fried chicken, ham, potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans (and a separate pan for Jennifer without onions) and desserts on the back patio followed by the egg hunt . . . the 4th of July homemade peach ice cream and swimming and huddling together on the front porch while Pa and my uncles shot fireworks . . . Thanksgiving turkey and dressing (again a separate pan for Jennifer without onions) and every vegetable imaginable lined up across the kitchen island buffet style and followed by fruit cake, pound cake and ambrosia . . . Christmas Eve and all the gifts.  Those were the "big" ones.  Those were some good days, good times.  There were lots of in between times, too.  We spent days out of the summer swimming at her house.  She had the biggest pool I knew of.  And I got off the bus at her house during my early elementary years.  So we were there often.  She lived just through the pasture, over the hill and past the two ponds from my house.

If I had to choose Grandmother's favorite, I think it just might be Thanksgiving.  We ate the exact same meal year after year.  Grandmother would start cooking the dressing several days in advance.  She'd pull the corn and green beans out of the freezer she'd canned earlier in the summer.  There was never a question about who would bring what.  My mama and my aunts brought the exact same thing to eat every year.  So you're already thinking we're weird. Well, we just get weirder. We always sat in the same place year after year after year!  When the eight of us grandkids grew up and started getting married, we were displaced from the kitchen table that sat only eight to tables in the foyer and formal living room that would accommodate all of us.  But we always knew exactly who was sitting exactly where around that big table in the formal dining room. I just love that table!  Now, just in case anyone forgot, we'd have place cards at each seat with our names on them. Yes, place cards. Year after year after year. I really thought all families used place cards. Imagine my utter shock and dismay when I was in 1st grade and found out that my friends' families didn't use place cards! I mean, really, that was a BIG deal. I even saved the place card with Mason's name on it from his first Thanksgiving for his scrapbook!  When the grandgirls got old enough to have neat handwriting, Grandmother would let us write the place cards.  That was a big deal, y'all.  Anytime I think of Grandmother, I ALWAYS think of place cards.  Even though nobody needed them because we KNEW where to sit!  

And I've told the story before.  Every Christmas we'd have a birthday cake for Jesus.  The kids would be invited into the formal dining room where the adults ate (we ate at the kids' table in the kitchen), and Grandmother would go around and ask each one of us grandkids what we were going to give Jesus for Christmas.  Not one to be shy (and one with all the answers, too), I'd be the first to tell her exactly what I knew she was looking for.  My heart.  And then all the others would follow right along in my footsteps (Jennifer gagging all the way, I might add) and proclaim they were giving Jesus their hearts, too.  We did this year after year after year.  We just kept on giving Jesus our heart all over again.
I guess Ashley and Brian are on the other side of the table.  Adam is definitely a little over-zealous with the candle blowing out.  And I think Denise is just over the whole thing!  (Look closely, and you can see some of the place cards scattered about.)
I can't talk Christmas without mentioning Christmas lane!  Of all the days, I think that's the day I most looked forward to every year.  All the grandkids would go to Grandmothers for a quick supper and then we'd load up in the station wagon and head out to Christmas lane.  I really think they bought that old station wagon just for Christmas lane.  I used to love riding in the back of that thing.  That was before you had to wear seat belts and such so we'd all just pile into the back and find a spot wherever.  Christmas lane.  I don't even know how to describe it . . . it's just something you had to experience.  It was the 80s . . . so it really was a big deal at the time.  I mean, these were the days before the lights at Callaway Gardens and Lake Lanier and Stone Mountain and the Botanical Gardens.  Christmas Lane was where it was at.  There was a street, a subdivision maybe, in which all of the houses were decorated with outdoor lights.  Some of them even played music so you had to ride with the windows down.  It was just a homegrown lights display that was the bee's knees to a kid who loves outdoor lights.  You know what though?  I think Pa got more of a kick out of that than Grandmother did.  But she made sure it happened every year. 

I also can't talk Christmas without mentioning the ornaments.  Not just any old ornaments.  THE ornaments.  GRANDMOTHER'S ornaments.  Grandmother's Christmas tree was always, and always will be, my favorite.  It was decorated with nothing but ornaments made by she and her mother.  They would get those styrofoam balls that were wrapped in tiny satin threads and then decorate them with all kinds of beads and ribbons and trim and stickers and such.  Not a one was the same.  All I ever wanted as a child was to have a tree with ornaments just like hers.  Over the years she made some for each of our families.  I remember the year she gave each family (there were four sets because she had four children) Christmas ornaments for everyone that had our birthdays inscribed on a charm hanging from the bottom.  Mama still has all of those ornaments and has quite a little collection now of Grandmother's ornaments.  When Seth and I got married, Grandmother gave us four of them.

I'm looking forward to the day when my tree is full of her ornaments.  Those ornaments.  A long time ago, Pa converted one side of one of his barns into a craft room for her.  Grandmother loved to sew.  As a matter of fact, one summer she took each grand girl to the fabric store and let us pick out our own fabric.  She then made each of us a jumper to wear out of the fabric we picked out.  But she didn't just make mine.  She had me sit with her because she wanted to teach me how to do it.  By the way, I still remember what fabric I picked out.  It was hunter green and cream checked with red hearts in some of the little squares.  Anyway, she had all kinds of stuff in that sewing room, and that's where all the beads and balls for the Christmas decorations were.  The beads were organized in those little glass Gerber baby food jars.  One summer Grandmother had all eight of us grandkids over to spend the night.  She wanted us to make our own ornaments.  She had tables and chairs set up for us so that's what we did.  I made four.  They were all pastel colors - pink, blue, yellow and green.  Rob made a royal blue one decorated with red and green beads.

On occasion, I'd go to the grocery store with Grandmother.  I loved that!  She went to the Kroger.  Mama always went to the Piggly Wiggly.  I really loved that Kroger, the old one on Taylor Street before they moved to the new shopping center on 1941.  I thought it was a real treat to go with Grandmother to Kroger.  I loved riding in her car because she always had a half eaten roll of certs or some other mint in the crook of the seat.  I could usually find a cert on the desk in her bedroom, too.  We didn't have those at my house either.

Grandmother loved her family.  She loved her home.  She loved home-making.  She loved sewing and canning and cooking.  She was born in Florida.  Her grandparents lived in Hollonville (Georgia) so she'd come visit every summer.  That's how she met my Pa.  After they were married, she moved to Hollonville and made it her forever home.  She'd visit her parents and her sisters and brother in Orlando often.  I remember those trips.  But I do think she loved Hollonville.  You know, you think of all the things you want to ask somebody after you can no longer ask them.  I'd love to ask her about that, about leaving her family and her friend and everything she knew as "home" to marry Pa and make a new home in a new place far away.  That's what I'd really love to talk to her about.  She had a beautiful oil painting done of her wedding portrait that hung in her bedroom.  I took a picture of it last time I was there.

Grandmother was always very involved in church and church life.  She taught Sunday School.  She played the piano and the organ.  Not at the same time though.  She's the only person I've ever known who had both a piano AND an organ in her home.  Grandmother loved her Lord.  And she knew her Bible.  She had pages and pages of it memorized.  I don't know how she did it.  That's something else I sure would like to ask her.  I remember one time in particular when I was little.  There was a knock at the door.  There was a couple who wanted to share with her a "word" from their church.  They quoted a Bible verse or two.  She looked at them and said, "Now let me FINISH quoting the verse you just did because you left off the whole last part of it."  Needless to say, they left.  Grandmother was a King James kind of girl.  I was an NIV kind of girl back in my younger days.  I was in college at the time.  I'd make a point to go visit her when I came home.  By this time, my Pa had died.  I think a little bit of her died that day, too.  Things never were quite the same after that.  So I was visiting with her during one of my weekends home, and we were talking about the Bible.  I quoted a verse.  In the NIV.  I don't even remember now which one it was.  She just as quick looked at me and said, "Don't you be messing up the King's English."  And then she quoted the verse to me in the KJV.  She wasn't being rude or mean.  I just chuckled a little bit.  But she was serious.  She was serious about knowing her Bible.

I can also remember the day I told her I was pregnant and was having a girl.  I told her we were naming the baby Hannah Katherine and that she would be called Hannah Kate.  I went through the whole spill about the double name and insisted that she would, indeed, be called Hannah Kate.  Grandmother looked at me and said, "Well, I don't know why you want to do that."  I thought she was talking about the whole double name thing.  Then she said, "You could at least name her Kathleen."  Well, that's not exactly what I was expecting.  But then it hit me.  Kathleen was Grandmother's middle name.  So she was suggesting Kathleen instead of Katherine.

Vivian Kathleen.  Or was it . . .

Grandmother was all of the good, loving, kind, gentle Grandmotherly things.  She was a Southern belle from head to toe.  But.  She could be spunky.  And I mean, spunky.  She could get fired up.  If you know what I mean.  Fired. up.  So she had a little sass about her.

When I went home for her funeral, Daddy, Mama and I went to her house one last time.  I wanted to look around, walk through the house one last time.  That's when I went looking underneath the staircase for pictures and such.  I found an old scrapbook she'd made.  It looked to be from her latter years in high school.  At the end of the scrapbook was a clipping of her wedding announcement from the Orlando newspaper.  I read through it, and I immediately saw it.  Kathleene.  Kathleene was spelled with an "e" at the end.  I'd never seen it spelled that way.  I always thought it was Kathleen without an "e" at the end.  So I showed it to Mama and asked her about it.  We both agreed it must've been a misprint.  Although, I honestly find it hard to believe Grandmother didn't make them do a re-print with the correct spelling!  That would be her.

Last fall I'd decided to do some genealogy research.  After Grandmother died, I knew I wanted to start with her family first.  I got what I could from my mama and Aunt Lynne.  It wasn't much.  But I didn't know where to begin.  My BFF did an extensive genealogy research project for her family a few years ago so I reached out to her and asked her for advice and just exactly how and where to get started.  Long story short, she'd been working on a little surprise for me.  She knew Grandmother, too.  She put together a binder for me to walk me through the steps of effective research and even used Grandmother as my example.  It was supposed to be a surprise, but I sort of ruined it a bit.  She emailed me some pages she found in Grandmother's old yearbooks.  There was a page in her senior yearbook with Grandmother's picture, a quote and a list of her clubs and accomplishments.  But the very first thing I saw was her name.  Vivian Kathleene Scott.  KATHLEEN WITH AN "E!"  IN HER SENIOR YEARBOOK.

So I immediately messaged mama and Aunt Lynne.  I just figured I'd had it wrong all these years.  But I was shocked when Aunt Lynne said she never knew it to have an "e" on the end.  She went through some more documents for me.  Grandmother's birth certificate does not have the "e" on the end.  It was spelled Kathleene with an "e" on the wedding invitation and her marriage certificate.  So, at this point, we have no idea, no explanation for the mystery of the "e."  That would be something else I'd ask Grandmother if I could talk to her again.  I think, from a legal standpoint, her middle name is Kathleen without the "e" since that's the way it's spelled on her birth certificate.  But.  Here's my theory.

My middle name is Lynne after my Aunt Lynne.  I've known several Lynn's in my life, but I don't know any Lynne's with an "e" besides my aunt and me.  I even questioned Grandmother about the spelling of our names years ago.  I asked her why she put an "e" on the end of it.  And do you know what she told me?  She said it's spelled with an "e" because that's the way the French do it!  Well.  We are not in France.  And, as far as I know, my family is not from France.  I haven't had time to really look into this whole French spelling thing to know if that's really true or not.  Spanish was the only foreign language offered when I was in high school so I know not one thing about France and the French except that I sure would love to visit Paris one day.  But she was so serious, y'all.  And, at the time, I totally believed her!  So I think she was trying to do the same thing to Kathleen.  Make it French.  With an "e."  Either that, or her favorite letter was "e!"  I mean, somewhere, somehow along the way, she was trying to change the spelling of her middle name.

Gosh.  There are SO MANY things I remember.  When I visited her on my weekends home from college, she often times had a bowl of soup for me.  Broccoli or chicken noodle.  Her chicken noodle soup was a little different though.  But I loved it.  Every once in awhile she'd take the grandgirls to eat at the Bulloch House.  She loved that restaurant.  She always had a glass of tea on the table beside her chair.  For awhile she was really into making sun tea.  I didn't care for it all that much.  I still remember that big jug of tea sitting out on the back steps.

About seven or so years ago, Grandmother was diagnosed with alzheimer's.  I knew what was coming.  I saw it everyday during my years working at a retirement community.  I just never imagined it would be MY grandmother sitting there staring off in the distance with not a clue who I even was.  And, of course, because I could go home only twice or so a year, it wasn't long before she didn't know who I was.  I'd always go visit her, always take the children.  She loved the children.  She didn't know who they were.  But she loved them and played with them.  They'd hide behind her chair and try to sneak up on her.  She'd act like she wasn't paying attention, like she didn't even see them.  And then all of a sudden she'd look their way and go, "Boo!"  She had them rolling.  Here she is with Hannah Kate in September 2010.
Grandmother knew that she was supposed to know me.  And she did a pretty good job with it, too.  We'd still talk and have conversations together.  But then it got to the point where it was nearly impossible to have a conversation with her anymore because I just didn't have a clue what she was talking about.  And then the day came Thanksgiving a year ago when she just looked straight through me.  Like I wasn't even there.  Grandmother was called to her eternal heavenly home on November 26, 2016.  But she left us a long time ago.

I had not planned to visit at all, but the Lord so graciously allowed me to see her and talk to her just three days before she went home.  I talked to her, but she didn't even acknowledge the sound of my voice, didn't even turn my way.  I held her hand, but she didn't even acknowledge my touch.  Nothing.  I always said it would be such a relief, such a joy when the Lord did call her home because she'd finally be made well and whole again.  She'd be more alive than I've ever been here on this earth.  But, man.  November 26 was a sad day.  So sad.  I thought that because I'd already been mourning her loss for what seemed like too many years already, the years that alzheimer's ravaged, I wouldn't mourn anymore.  Or maybe that it would somehow be easier.  It wasn't.  It really wasn't.

On the day of her memorial service, we were all together again.  Her sons and daughter.  The grandchildren.  Some of the great-grands.  Her nieces and nephews that we hadn't seen IN YEARS.  As a matter of fact, I was trying to remember the last time all of my cousins and I were together.  I'm the only one who moved away.  I think it's been eight or so years.  But we were all together on that day.
And, because I'm the oldest, bossy girl cousin . . . I hope each and every one of you know just how special you were to her, how much you meant to her and just how proud of you she was.  Every last one of you!  I know that because she told me so.  I wish she could see us now.  I wish Pa could see us now!  And all the great-grands.

Scott, she was so proud of your military service.  And then you followed in Pa's footsteps and opened that old tire store.  And the John Deere place.  Adam, she was so proud that you gave her the very first great-grand.  She'd be so proud of your new home now and your family.  Rob, she loved how you'd come up there and visit with her after Pa died.  She was proud of you for working hard and building that house.  Your three boys would remind her of her three boys.  Jennifer, I wish she could see you now, could know that you ran 1,000 miles (literally) or something crazy like that last year, could see your family of seven (because who would've ever thought?!).  Denise, she would be so proud of you, Teacher of the Year. She would be so proud of the way you and Lamar are a forever family for your three boys.  Ashley, I know she always loved visiting with you and your girls, and I know Wyatt would just tickle her to death as much as he loves tractors and the farm.  She'd be so proud of you for getting your real estate license.  Brian, I told you this already, but she'd have your campaign sign proudly displayed in her yard even though she doesn't live in District 111.  Oh, how I wish she could know that her grandson serves in the Georgia State House.  I just can't imagine what she'd say about that, but I know it would be real good.

I'm sure she'd be the first to tell you that she wasn't perfect.  She wasn't the perfect wife or the perfect mother or even the perfect grandmother.  But you know what?  She was the BEST Grandmother!

As we were driving up to the cemetery, I remember thinking I just couldn't believe we were doing that, we were going there.  It was a very sweet, very intimate service.  There's a nursing home ministry at my uncle's church, and they visited Grandmother each month.  The gentleman who spent the most time with her spoke to us at her memorial service.  He knew her only during those years of memory loss.  He said the way he got to know her was by taking his CD player and playing and singing hymns with her.  She had no clue who he was, no clue who her own family was, but she could sing every. single. word. to those old hymns!  He said she'd sing even the ones he didn't know.  One such hymn was Little Brown Church in the Vale (or Church in the Wildwood).  He said she'd get to singing real loud sometimes.  Now, this is definitely a lesser-known hymn.  But not to her.  And then he proceeded to share with us the last verse of this hymn because it reminded him so of her:

Come to the church in the wildwood,
Oh, come to the church in the dale,
No spot is so dear to my childhood,
As the little brown church in the vale.
From the church in the valley by the wildwood,
When day fades away into night,
I would fain from this spot of my childhood
Wing my way to the mansions of light.  

I miss her right now.  But.  She's wearing her crown.  And she's in her mansion.  She always had a preference for the "finer" things in life.  And now she has her CROWN.  I have no doubt she's wearing it well.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give to me on that day."  ~2 Timothy 4:7-8

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Julie, you learned well. Your Grandmother definitely left a legacy and you are a large part of it. I didn't really know Miss Vivian well, but I'm glad I knew you. I love you! I'm glad you found the words to remember your Grandmother on paper. Well done!