Tomorrow, my grandmother turns ninety years old. Ninety years of life. Amazing. Truly amazing. I wonder if she, at my age, ever dreamed she would live that long. I wonder what she thought her life would be like. I wonder what her dreams were as a child. She grew up in such a different world. At the young age of six, she lost her mother to pneumonia. Her father remarried, and she and her sister were sent off to live with their grandmother and aunt. Quite a different world from today where I could not imagine many fathers choosing to send their children away after the death of a wife. My grandmother married my grandfather when she was only fourteen, and she will tell anyone who will listen that she didn't really like my grandfather all that much. She had a crush on his brother. But he asked her to marry him, and that's just what you did back then. If a man asked you to marry, you married. Whether you loved him or not. I know she claims to not have loved him at the time, but I have no doubt that she does now. They celebrated 76 years together (I think) their last anniversary. And though they are not the dreamy, soul-mate kind of couple you see in the movies, as they bicker and squabble with each other incessantly, they take care of each other and enjoy the same things out of life.
As a child, I can remember staying at my grandmother's house quite a bit. When my father made the decision to become a preacher when I was five, my mother went back to work full time. And I was not an adaptive child. I did not like daycare; it sent my spirit into a frenzy. My grandmother had a job as a seamstress at a local boutique, and promptly moved her sewing to her home instead of working from the store. What memories I have of the women coming in to my grandmother's house with their fancy new clothes to have them altered. I would hold the pin cushion for my grandmother as she pinned a hem or marked a place to be taken in. And the women would gossip and laugh. I remember the scent of the new clothes. I can see the wooden apparatus she used to pin a straight line for the hem. The wooden box they would stand on.
My grandmother could make anything. She made a lot of my clothes. All my dresses, of that I am sure. Beautiful dresses. When I became old enough, we would go to Hancock's, my grandmother, my mother, and me, and I would look through the books and pick out what I liked. She would take me to the file drawers full of patterns and I would find what I had selected from the book. Sometimes, I would cut patterns for her. I can see her pulling out that crisp yellow pattern and unfolding and straightening every bit. The fabric. The pins. The thread. What an amazing woman. When I was around ten, I think, she helped me make my doll a dress out of left over fabric from a dress she made for me. I still have it tucked away in a box with my old dolls. And I can still repair a hem and sew a button.
I remember her thread box. Every color in the world wrapped around a spool. And when I was there, I would clean it out for her, reorganizing and throwing away empty spools. And to this day, one of two things will happen when you visit my grandmother's house. You will either step on a pin, or you will leave with a thread on your clothes. Perhaps both.
My grandmother has lived through a lot of pain. Bearing four children. Losing one to a tragic car accident over nearly thirty years ago. Losing all her brothers and sister to death. Watching her husband battle heart disease and strokes. Battling her own lung disease. But all with grace and dignity. Because that is just her - grace an dignity.
I can see her now, sitting in her chair, painting her nails. Her nails were always painted. And she had Juicy Fruit gum in her purse at all times. It was like a limitless supply. And cook - dear me, she loved to cook. When I was very young, we would have lunch sometimes on Sunday after church. Fried chicken, vegetables, corn bread. She made the best vegetable soup. And cornbread dressing. And homemade barbecue sauce. Pound cake. And, of course, sweet tea. Now the sweet tea is sweetened with Equal. And those lunches are few and far between. Age has set in. Ninety years of age.
My grandmother. There is so much more I could say, but it wouldn't make anyone understand any more what a pivotal part of my life she has been. She made my mom who she is today. And my mom, in return, was able to be the wonderful mother to me that she has been. And then like wise, me to my children. And we cannot forget that my little baby girl was named for my grandmother. My middle name is Lynn, and my mother's middle name was Lynn. I wanted to find a way to incorporate it into my daughter's name. My grandmother's name is Mattie Olivia. So what better way than to merge the names together: Madalyn Olivia. And I only hope that my daughter realizes what an honor it is to be named after such a strong, loving and graceful woman.