There truly is no way to really describe my Grandmother than as a Proper Southern Gentlewoman. (Yes, all of those words require capitals.) She wore her hair in a bun, almost always wore a dress with a slip, and rarely raised her voice. She was a portrait of grace and class. Most of the time.
I was the eldest of her grandchildren (when you are a Lady’s granddaughter, you use words like “eldest,” you see). There are thirteen of us in all. During a big summer reunion bash, she taught us how to make “watermelon teeth.” They are hideous false teeth made from the rind of a watermelon. Her children (our parents) were both horrified and entertained.
She doled out M&M’s as if they were gold coins. I am amazed at the level of cooperation she could get from rowdy children for such a small investment. She drank Busch beer out of the can when it was just the family around. She rarely cursed, but I did think “damnyankee” was one word for many years.
She raised 6 children as a single parent. Mother was the oldest, 12, when my grandfather died…the youngest had been so recently conceived that Grandmother did not know she was pregnant when he died. We are all as different as can be, but we all respect (most of) the choices the others make. I missed a family reunion this weekend, and I am sorry, indeed, that I could not be there.
The day she surprised me the most was when I was in college. She and my aunt and cousin had come to Atlanta for a visit, so I came over from Athens. We were eating at a restaurant just chatting away. Suddenly, Grandmother got a grin on her face and said she had a joke to tell us…a dirty joke. She began to tell the joke and found herself unable to say the words out loud. Purses were searched until a pen was found, and she wrote on a napkin. I wish with all my being that I had saved that napkin. It should be framed and hung on a wall. She wrote the words “Fuck You” on the napkin. The joke was of a couple in bed who said, “…frantic pointing at the napkin…” to each other back and forth a few times. The punchline was, “This oral sex is not all it’s cracked up to be.”
The joke was not so terribly funny. What I learned about my Grandmother made me see her completely differently. She knew these words? She even knew what they meant? I have since learned other things about my Grandmother that have surprised me, but the notions revealed by her telling us that not funny joke were probably the most revealing.
After all, when I am 70 (her approximate age at that time), I doubt I will have forgotten all the things I know and find amusing now. It might even be fun to surprise the next generation sometime down the line.