She lived hundreds of miles from us and as a child,
I saw her but every three or four years—
Grandma was the religious stabilizer of our wayward family. She lived hundreds of miles from us and as a child, I saw her but every three or four years. Yet, somehow in those brief and warm moments, when circumstances allowed us to be together, she etched herself into my life. I remember her well.
he always looked the same. Her hair was serrated gray, and she stooped at the shoulder. She wore dark dresses imprinted with white flowers; her shoes were black with awkward thick heels. And whenever she saw me, she always said the same thing, “Come close, child, and let me hug you. My, how you’ve grown! You keep shooting up like a weed, and we’ll have to put a brick on your head. But tell me, Jimmy – what are you going to do with the life God has given you?”
Phyllis and son, Grandma's House
How did I know? How does any boy of nine know the answers to questions like that? A boy’s thoughts are of the boy next door, of sandlot baseball, and of adventures in pirate-infested woods. There were Indians to be fought. And only three more box-tops from Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and I could send away for that special ring with the secret compartment.
That morning when mother came in to wake me for school, she spoke excitedly, reminding us that either today or tomorrow Grandma would be here. The trip was so long that we never knew for sure when she would arrive, but this time aunts, uncles, and cousins were coming, too. I went off to school. Mrs. McDonald drove our school bus; she was a large matronly woman who insisted that we smaller kids pack three to a seat. It was life as usual.
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As I got off the bus that afternoon, the sight of a strange car parked near our trailer caught my attention. The license plate read- Indiana. There was no doubt; Grandma was here! My feet jumped at the ground and suddenly burst into running. My hand opened the door of our trailer home, and I pulled myself inside and looked about.
The smell of alcohol mingled with thick cigarette smoke floated about the room like a cloud. A Rook game was in progress; someone swore in laughter, slamming a handful of cards on a table. Empty beer cans were scattered about the floor like bowling pins. The small room overflowed with boisterous people, and I searched intently for Grandma’s warm face. In a corner she sat quietly, her hands folded on the pages of a Bible. Her manner was not that of a self-righteous fanatic but of a woman doing what she did naturally every day. I froze. She glanced up at me and smiled.
“Come here, Jimmy,” she said. “My, how you’ve grown. If you keep on like that, we’ll have to get a brick and put it on your head just to slow you down. Now, tell me- what are you going to do with the life God has given you? Have you thought about that?” She hugged me, and I felt her embrace touch my heart.
circa 1954 Pensacola, Florida