This is a story about my knight in shining armor: my tiny, just over 5-foot, 100 pound grandma, better known to all who met her, as “Grammy”. She may have been small in stature, but she made up for it in heart.
Countless times throughout my life, she came to my rescue, saving me again and again from large and small physical or emotional deaths. As a child, she was often my only source of stability and safe haven. She taught me how to love, and may have been the only person on Earth who has ever truly loved me unconditionally without judgement (as I’m pretty sure that even my husband would draw the line somewhere). She is the reason I am here.
When I was a child, Grammy’s house was full of safety and calm. She taught my sister and I to bake, to knit, to cross-stitch, to sew pillows, to paint, to cook chicken-fried steak, and to cut our own hair. Every crappy pillow we sewed and junk picture we painted was treated like a Picasso by Grammy. She used to sit between the two twin beds in the room we slept in as kids, and scratch our backs as we fell asleep at night. When I grew up, I would occasionally ask her to scratch my back, just to recall that comfort, and she never turned me down.
She is the only person who has ever brushed my hair for no reason at all. There is so much love in the simple act of running a brush through someone’s hair, over and over, unhurriedly and carefully.
As a tween, no matter where I was, if I called her and told her I was hungry, or needed a ride, there she was. She once picked up my friends and I from the side of the road way out in the country when we (stupidly) left another friend’s house hours before our ride was coming. We were impatient, and had decided to walk to another friends’ house miles away. What we failed to consider, because we were 12, was that it was noon in Texas, and we didn’t have water, and it was a lot further to the next house than it seemed when in an air-conditioned car. Halfway there, after drinking water out of a random creek in desperation, we knocked on a stranger’s door to use the phone (this was before cell phones or even pagers) to call someone to pick us up. Of course, the person I called, the one person who I KNEW would come, was Grammy. She came for four sweaty, sunburned girls on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and took us for burgers and sodas before taking us home. More than that, she didn’t even look at me sideways for getting myself into such a situation in need of rescue. No shame. No complaints. No guilt. Nothing but love, sustenance and support.
When I was in high school, and both of my home lives (at separate parents houses) were too chaotic, I asked Grammy if I could stay with her for my senior year. She said yes and I moved in. Months later, my best friend – who’s home life had become unbearable – needed a place to stay for a while. I asked Grammy if she could stay with me, in my room, at Grammy’s house. She said yes. So my bestie and I lived with Grammy, safe and secure, until the madness passed. For me, it was the full year. When I graduated high school (a big deal in my family – not many of us did), Grammy was there, with bells on.
When I had just turned twenty, and found myself unexpectedly pregnant, my parents were both alternately irate and stupefied. They shamed me and slapped a label on me. This was not supposed to happen to this daughter! Or so they thought, (understandably). When I told Grammy I was pregnant, she patted my hand and said, “Good. I’m glad we’ll have a new baby to love.” I burst into tears.
Years later, when my baby and I needed a place to live, Grammy welcomed us, loved us, and watched my baby while I took college classes. When I graduated from college with honors a few years after that, Grammy would not have missed that graduation for the world.
She was nothing but love, and no matter who you were, she shared that love with a welcoming heart. Step-kids of her kids, scraggly friends of ours, cousins by marriage, and so-and-so’s brother from another mother – no matter – if family brought you home, you were family and she loved you as family. The end. She was “Grammy” or “Gram” to all my friends, her whole life.
Aside from these things that make her so utterly special to me, these are the incredible things I admire her for:
- I never ever once heard her gossip about anyone or even talk disparagingly about anyone else. And believe me – she had plenty of people she could have said something negative about on the daily (we are a very complicated family). She was a Christian, but she never went to church that I saw, but she read the Bible. I never asked her if it was her faith that made her never gossip or cast stones, or if it was how she was raised, or something else. I didn’t even consciously recognize her way until I was an adult, but I’ve always aspired to it. Such grace.
- She knew what love was and how to give it. The happiness of her loved ones was the ONE thing that made her the most happy. She just wanted you to have some joy, some laughs, some smiles, and those simple things filled her up.
- She never drank alcohol. No one ever drank alcohol at her house. At family gatherings throughout my life, if some adult wanted a beer, that person had to bring their own and leave it in an ice chest outside and drink it in the yard or the driveway. I never heard her tell anyone to do this, it just was the way it was. She created meals, games, art, told stories and laughed as much as any drunk I know, but she did it stone cold sober.
- A secondary result of this abstinence in her house was that her home was always 100% safe and calm. No scary, sloppy, loud or slurry, not-all-there adults. Such a blessing.
- She wore white capri jeans for 50% of her life as a grandmother – through multiple grandkids and great grandkids and she never ever had one stain on any of those damn white pants. How did she do it?
- She forgave quickly and fully, and welcomed you back with open arms. She did not hold a grudge. Not even when she should have.
- She made the best homemade biscuits you’ve ever tasted (flaky, buttery, melt in your mouth goodness) and she did it without a recipe! She made it look so easy and brushed off any praise.
- She never gave in to utter desolation for long: not when her first of five children died in his early 20’s, or when her second and third sons died. She endured more pain than any mother should ever have to face, but she didn’t let it break her. That makes her stronger than Superman to me.
- She wasn’t a great cook, even coming from a time when cooking prowess was how you proved your worth as a woman and kept your man coming back home for dinner. She loved art, not cooking. There was a little artsy sign hanging above her stove with a picture of a little man with a plate of paints in front of an easel that read: “Those who eat here must trust to fate, to cleanse his pallet and fill his plate, sometimes there is and sometimes there ‘aint, I am no cook, I like to paint!”. She knew her strengths and what she enjoyed, and if you were going to eat at her house, you better get used to them.
- She was a Traditional Grandma Extraordinaire. She loved Christmas and would deck the house out with winter wonderlands, lights, fake snow, train sets, holly, fat Santa Clause’s and nutcrackers galore. She never once admitted to me, not even in her 80’s, that Santa was not real. It used to make me laugh so hard (with love) when she maintained her position. She would bake with us every single time we spent the night and let us stay up too late and watch movies, then let us help make a big breakfast of pancakes and fried eggs and bacon and biscuits. Her cookie jar was rarely empty, and if one of the grandkids ever found it so, time to make cookies! (Magic and cooking with your grandkids, pass it on.)
- She was a self-taught artist. She read books and practiced, and she created beautiful paintings.
- If it was important, she showed up. Every time.
- She was tough as shit and stubborn as a mule, and what’s not to admire about that in a barely 5 foot tall old lady?
My Grammy, my hero. I will miss her, but not too terribly much, because she is a part of me. She is inside me. She is here. She helped raise me. She taught me, and loved me. That love, those lessons are as much me as I am, and I am eternally grateful that she was ever in my life, rescuing me and saving me again and again and again. My constant.
When she was dying, I was lucky enough to be able to hold her hand and tell her goodbye. When it was time for me to go, I said, “Grammy, I’m going to leave for a while, I need to go home to take care of my babies. You can go home and take care of your babies, too. Don’t you worry, we will be fine here. You will always be with me, and I will see you soon.” I know this to be true.
Grammy would never give us any advice. She was too humble to think she had much wisdom, but she understood life better than most. Remember the lessons of Grammy. Know that no matter how small you are, or how little you think of your influence, all your tiny acts of love, grace, non-judgement, forgiveness, courage and authenticity make you a true superhero. Now, go home and take care of your babies.