This is just a little blog of my own as an aside to the websites I manage for my kids. Here I hope to share with friends and post about things I hope aren't too self-indulgent! For more about Tyler and Meggie, check out:

  • Froggy Boy Website
  • and
  • Little Duckie Website
  • Friday, July 06, 2007

    My Cool Grandma
    ***in memory***

    My Grandma was “the cool Grandma”—the one who listened to my angty teenage problems and treated them like big, adult problems, treated my feelings as valid no matter how petty they might have been. Not that she wouldn’t say so if I needed reminding to do the right thing—she was plain spoken in that regard, but gentle enough. And she did this for all of us grandkids. For me, she defined the term unconditional love. I got no disapproval for late birthday cards, weird teenage fashions, or strange new ideas. I got only love and hugs and “lots of sugar.” And no, I don’t mean cookies, she was not a baking Grandma, she would say with apologies. But there were no need for apologies. What she offered was far more valuable.

    She loved all of us grandkids the same, and we were a rag-tag bunch if ever there were a bunch. Some of us were fat, others model thin. Long hair on boys? No problem. Spikes or dye-colored hair? What of it? Acne was accounted for of course, but that was the least of what we had to offer. By the time she passed, about half of our great number had tattoos, and some had piercings. Two of us were bisexual, and our stories of unrequited love were just as listened-to as any others. Dedicated church-goer or not—she did not judge us. She always made sure there was a vegetarian meal for me amid the meat-centered Southern dishes at family gatherings. One of us grandkids had cerebral palsy, and she was there for him with just as much sugar and an extra dash of hands-on care, while her husband, our Poopop, created hand-made scoot-abouts for him. Some of us went to college and some of us didn’t, some even to graduate school, but it made no difference, she was proud of us just the same. Some of us grandkids had different daddies or divorced parents—again, it made to difference to her love. Half of us weren’t even “blood” grandkids, since she married Poopop when he already had three kids, but her unquestioning love for her stepkids extended naturally and abundantly to us grandkids without hesitation. I never knew any other Grandma, as Nana died when I was born, and she was all the Grandma I needed, she filled the role so completely. Not until I grew up would I realize what an accomplishment that would be.

    A strong Southern woman, I looked up to her for her outspoken nature, her graciousness, and her wry Southern sayings. I especially loved the way she called me “sweetie-pie,” and would pat my leg in a quick staccato that stung and say “ooooh, I just can’t get enough of your sugar!” Then ask me to quit snapping my gum. A whole little tribe of us girl-grandkids were especially attached to her, calling her regularly as one would a mother or a best friend. She brought us together; even in the end when we sorted through myriad photos and created a display of her life for the memorial service. (Yes, we’re responsible for that youthful photo of Grandma in a polka dot bikini perched on a rock amid a waterfall in Jamaica in 1964!) And I for one am not really ready to relinquish that connection.

    She was an accomplished painter, and we have the canvases to prove it. She collected teapots and little bells, and loved to buy new watches. She liked to swim. She’d watch chick movies with us, and let us borrow her car at night. She made friends everywhere she went, of all stripes. She was active and vital and witty. And she blended a great margarita! As she liked to say, “well, it’s five o’clock somewhere!” And I must say she’s the only grandma I’ve heard of to talk a grandchild—me—into “one more drink” and to stay up later. Not that she was a lush, mind you! She knew her mind and she knew how to have fun, whether it was a glass of wine and a game of hearts with family at Thanksgiving, or a lunch out and shopping with granddaughters at Little Five Points in Atlanta.

    The best part of all, and the most recent development, was all the sugar she was getting off of her great-grandkids, who called her “GG.” It was such a pleasure to her to have these new babies around, and she was so good to them. She stayed with me for a week after Tyler was born, and as much as she claimed “that child’s bottom has never touched a mattress” about how much we liked to hold and carry him, I have the pictures to prove how much she loved to sit for hours with that little baby sleeping on her chest and shoulder, reading a book, napping with him, refusing to give him up or get up for anything. She welcomed my cousin and her two children into her home nearly a year while my cousin’s husband served in the Navy, and it was a lucky and precious time for them all to enjoy the love, the family, even the chaos! It is my greatest regret that she will not meet more of the babies we grandkids are making for our GG—the child I now carry, the children my cousins are planning, and weddings in the works. It feels wrong somehow to go on without her, the center of the family, the glue between kids and stepkids and grandkids scattered across the U.S. that always had a place to stay with her in Atlanta, the warm center of family reunions, holidays, and raucous gatherings. Now, as my mother becomes a Nana for the second time, the torch is passed on. As a mother myself, my role changes inexorably in place and time. My childhood family memories will not be my child’s memories, his will be quite different now. For me, the smell of pine needles and Georgia clay after rain; walks in the forest by the house with Grandma and Poopop with his hand-carved walking sticks; the cooing of mourning doves in the mornings out the guest room window; cousins shooting pool in the basement; laughter from aunts and uncles upstairs; sniffing Grandma’s decorative perfume bottles and unmistakable power puff in the bathroom while cousins pound on the door to get in next—not too sweet or flowery, not a stereotypical grandmother smell, but ladylike, sophisticated, and unmistakably Southern. My “cool Grandma.”

    Grandma, me, my brother Brian (with red hair), and cousin Katrina on the trail out by the house in Stone Mountain, GA.

    Katrina cheering in the woods. Note the walking stick in Grandma's hand. I believe Poopop is the photographer. I think that's Aunt Cathy to the right.

    Poopop stopping to bring in the mail.


    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Valerie, The very last words I said to my Mamma was she is a wonderderful wife, mother, grandmother, friend and exceptional woman. That her job here on earth is complete and it was ok for her to go be with Poopop and Aunt Kim. My heart is broken and don't know where I found the strength to let her go. She would be so very proud and elated to know of the memories you have of her and the love she had for us all. Thank YOU, Aunt Cathy

    3:09 PM


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