I called my grandmother, “Granny Meatloaf.” This wasn’t the normal name I called her. Normally, she was Grandmother. However, when I was feeling particularly frisky or brave, I called her “Granny Meatloaf.” I have no idea why. She didn’t make meatloaf. My older cousins called her “Granny,” so maybe I got that part from them.
Grandmother lived a hard life. Like everyone from her generation, she endured hard work and times of poverty. By the time I knew her, I don’t think she was poor. She lived like she was broke, but she had plenty. We would arrive at Grandmother’s house after dark, and at first, we would wonder if she was already asleep. Then, though, we would see her 10 watt light bulb burning in the window, and we would know she was awake. Wouldn’t want to waste electricity, you know.
My grandmother was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. When I was 7 years old, we left our beach house in paradise (okay, really, Isle of Palms, SC) and moved back to the town where my grandmother lived. My mother wanted to be nearby to take care of her mother. I vaguely remember moving back, and I think, at that point, we thought grandmother was dying. (I could be making that up, but hey, it’s my story…) My grandmother lived until I was 19 years old. I’m pretty sure, for a few years there, my father was convinced his mother-in-law would never leave. We joked she was going to outlive us all.
My grandmother was 69 years old when she died. I remember people at the funeral saying how young she was. I disagreed. To me, she was ancient. She had been old forever. Now, as my age increases, I realize how young she really was. In my defense, though, she had acted like an old lady for as long as I had known her, so she was old to me.
Grandmother worked at a factory. I think they made plastic bags. I’m pretty sure that’s where the rare leukemia came from. Back then, they figured “what didn’t kill you made you stronger” even applied to industrial chemicals. (You’ve got that song playing in your head now, don’t you? Sorry about that.) No need for respirators or protective gear.
Grandmother would come home from work with rubber bands on her wrist. I don’t know what the rubber bands were for, but she always had them. She would hang them from the gear shifter on the steering column of her car.
Speaking of column, my grandmother had some pretty funny words she used. Column would be one of them. She said, “Colyum.” I still can’t say column correctly because of her. Thanks, Grandmother.
Some other fun words a la Kate were candlelobster, tarco and therpy. If you wanted to set the table for a fancy dinner, you would put a candlelobster on it. You would not want to get Tarco Bell for the fancy meal. The therpy would come in handy if you had an injury to your knee. That physical therpy can be difficult, though.
Grandmother used to grow a garden. She always had strawberries growing. They were never sweet, but there was just something about picking strawberries fresh from the vine and eating them. (Now that I live near the Strawberry Capital of the World, that doesn’t sound nearly as special.) Once, my sister and I got fussed at by my mother for eating all of Grandmother’s strawberries. Grandmother had probably worked for months to get her vines to grow those berries, and then my sister and I wiped them out in one afternoon. I also got in trouble for picking grandmother’s flowers in the front yard. I thought they were weeds, but they ended up being some kind of special plant that Grandmother had gone to a lot of trouble to grow. Oops. My bad.
Grandmother would dry apple slices outside. She would put them out on the trunk of her car or on the driveway and would put a window screen over them to keep the bugs off. I’m not sure how effective that was, but they were still good, bugs and all. She would use the apples to make fried apple pies. Those little pies were amazing, as long as she remembered to add sugar. Since then, I have never found anyone who can make fried apple pies like my grandmother.
Grandmother was sometimes forgetful when she cooked. In fact, as she aged, her cooking got worse and worse. For one thing, she only used the cheapest of ingredients. Cheap store-brand margarine just doesn’t create the same baked goods as real butter, no matter how good a cook you are (and she really wasn’t all that good). Grandmother made peanut butter ice cream once that would have been really good if she had just remembered to sweeten it. She made black walnut cakes that were delicious. However, they were major dental work waiting to happen. She was not good at taking the nuts from the shells. I’d be going along, enjoying my piece of cake and then, AAUGH! Shell.
I still prefer my grits lumpy. That’s because that was how Grandmother made them – with HUGE lumps. The scrambled eggs had brown spots from being burned. I’m not so crazy about that now. One thing she made pretty well was popcorn. When I would spend the night at her house, she would pop real popcorn on the stove and put melted margarine on top. (Or, futter, as my kids call it. Fake butter.)
Grandmother was cheap. With a capital C. I’m pretty sure I have some of her genes in me. There was a local pizza shop, called the Pizza Factory. One summer when I was little, they sold glass Coca Cola pitchers and offered free refills. I’m pretty sure they meant free refills for the summer, but they did not specify that. For years, any time I would spend the night at Grandmother’s house, we would go pick up a pizza and get that pitcher filled. She would take a (used!) piece of aluminum foil to cover the pitcher with so we could get it home without spilling Coke everywhere. Then, when we would get to the car with it, she would take a rubber band from her steering colyum and put it around the rim of the pitcher. That pitcher got a crack in it after years of use. Luckily, the crack was in the top 1/3 of the pitcher. At that point, Grandmother would just have them fill it to the line. She got her money’s worth out of that $5 pitcher. Bless her heart.
We were never allowed to throw away anything in the trash can in Grandmother’s bathroom. That’s because it wasn’t really for trash. That was where she stored the partial rolls of toilet paper she had collected from various and sundry places. We weren’t allowed to talk about it, although my sister and I thought it was pretty stinkin’ funny that she stole toilet paper.
Grandmother was a crafter. I know I got some of those genes. She could do any handiwork, I’m pretty sure. She crocheted. She tatted. If you don’t know what tatting is, Google it. It’s sort of like lace made with thread. She tried to teach me that once, but all I managed to do was tie knots. Grandmother made yo-yo bedspreads. (Google!) Most of all, she quilted. She had a quilting room that had a huge quilting rack that filled it. That room was always cold because she had the air vent shut off in there. and she kept the door closed to save electricity. In the winter, when Grandmother would have her wood stove cranked up to “flames of hell” temperature, my sister and I would escape to that cold quilting room and bask in the cool air while playing under Grandmother’s current work in progress.
Speaking of the wood stove, Grandmother used to be able to look at a fire and tell if it was “packin’ snow.” I have no idea what that means, but if Grandmother said the fire was packin’ snow, it was going to snow. She was almost always right about that.
Okay, you’re probably bored with my stories of my grandmother, but I could go on all day long. I won’t, but I could. I keep remembering things as I’m writing. She just gave me so much material! I could tell you about how she and I would play Kismet (Google!) or how she would come to our house on Christmas morning or how she would say, “Dan. Stop it,” when my father joked around with her. (You have to read that in a southern accent. Dan has two syllables.) I really could go on all day long. I just have to tell you one last story. It’s my favorite, and it was hilarious, at least to me.
When I was about the same age as the Goose, my grandmother and I headed over to the small town, Union, where my grandfather’s relatives lived. We would go there sometimes to visit my Aunt Ruby, who really was not my aunt at all. I’m pretty sure she was third cousin, twice removed, or something like that.
As we drove into town, I noticed flags hanging from the light posts. They had a letter “K” on them. I asked my grandmother what they were for, and she began thinking about it. She stayed quiet, thinking for about a minute, and then she began thinking aloud. She said, “I know what it is. It’s the Que Cluck Clan. I just know it. The Que Cluck Clan. Oh, I can’t believe it. How can that be? The Que Cluck Clan in Union.” For a second, I had no idea what she was talking about. Then, I realized it, and I had to fight to hold the laughter in. She thought it was the Klu Klux Klan.
Now, Grandmother grew more and more distraught over this as we drove. She was almost in tears. She just kept repeating “Que Cluck Clan” over and over and over, and I was just about to the howling stage of laughter. I wasn’t even keeping it in at this point, but she was so busy being shocked by the Que Cluck Clan, she didn’t even notice my disrespect. I found this hilarious, and her pronunciation was awesome. Even now, I can’t say the name of the club the correct way. It just wouldn’t be right.
When we got to Aunt Ruby’s house, Grandmother went rushing in. She was so upset that the Que Cluck Clan was there. Aunt Ruby asked what in the world she was talking about, and Grandmother explained about the flags. Turns out, the Kudzu Festival was taking place the weekend after. In case you don’t know what kudzu is, bless your heart, it’s the plant that ate the south. (Google!) As Aunt Ruby explained that there would be kudzu jelly and fried kudzu flowers, I was laughing so hard, I was crying. Bless my grandmother’s heart. The Que Cluck Clan.
My grandmother was certainly not perfect, and I could probably just as easily write as much about all the negatives. However, I choose to think about the funny memories my grandmother gave me. If nothing else, she gave me writing material, and she was certainly an interesting character in my story! -Al