Sunday, July 27, 2008

Granny's Pearls

I wore my Granny's pearls today in honor of what would have been her 96th birthday. It wasn't the first time that I've worn them. But today, they grabbed my attention when I felt their slight weight around my neck.

Actually, I'm not sure it's technically correct to call them "Granny's pearls." I don't recall ever having seen them around her neck. My cousins found them buried in a drawer when we cleaned out her house and asked if I wanted them.

I'm not sure why I said I'd take them. Maybe it was because the few pieces that held memories for me had already been snatched up by other relatives. And the remainder of her belongings consisted of garage sale purchases or things that had severely deteriorated such that I no longer wanted them. But all of her "things," even the strand of pearls shown above, pale in comparison to the real pearls that Granny gave me. Pearls of time.

It's hard to say how far back the real memories go. Many of the times that I spent as a child with she and my Pa-Pa before starting daycare have been recounted to me. Everyone, including myself, likes to blame Granny for the fact that I don't like vegetables. The story goes that Granny used to start talking up dessert before we'd taken the first bite of a meal and that she had a soft spot for allowing me to eat dessert without having eaten my helping of vegetables.

String on the first pearl.

Once I started school, I asked to spend Friday nights at Granny's house. She gladly obliged. If it was football season, we'd turn on the radio to the local radio station and listen to the live broadcast of the high school football games. While we listened to the game, Granny would file my nails and push back my cuticles, making sure that the pink "moons" showed. Many times, we'd turn off the radio before the game was over so that we could watch Dallas and Fantasy Island--two shows that I did not get to watch at home. The next morning, Granny would make the best cinnamon toast in her toaster oven and before I had finished would start questioning me about what I wanted for lunch. She wanted to be prepared before we left to go to garage sales, which was her favorite Saturday outing. She went religiously week after week, taking "off" only on her ninetieth birthday.

Add a couple more pearls.

Granny and Pa-Pa had retired by the time I was born, and so they lived on a fixed income. They made do with what they had but they often tried to earn some extra "spending money." Pa-Pa liked to trap 'coons and pick up aluminum cans, and they both liked to pick pecans. So about once a year, they would invite me to go pick pecans with them and let me sell my bag of pecans. Granny would pack a lunch for us, and we'd stay out in the pecan bottom all day. It was hard work, but I looked forward to it every year.

Add another pearl.

The best times I spent with Granny were during the summers. I somehow managed to talk my way into getting to stay at Granny and Pa-Pa's house instead of at a babysitter's. Every day, we'd go to the Senior Citizens' Center where Pa-Pa would play dominoes, and Granny would work in the craft room, usually making magnetic decorations for people to buy to put on their refrigerators. I joined Granny in the craft room and did my cross-stitch. Once a week, she would leave me alone for a while so that she could "take exercises" in the main room at the center.

After lunch, we'd head back to their house to take naps. Pa-Pa usually took his sitting in a chair outside, but Granny and I would lie in her bed and make up stories about the painting that hung on the wall. Sometimes, she'd read the paper out loud. (I'm not sure if she didn't know how to read to herself or if she read out loud because Pa-Pa couldn't read, but she read every article, card, and piece of mail out loud.) We might nap for only a little bit, depending on how long she read, because we had to be up by 2:00 in time for General Hospital, which she never missed an episode of.

Add another couple of pearls.

Granny and Pa-Pa had two gardens and would grow peas every year, which she allowed me to shell. I loved that almost as much as picking pecans because I would race to see if I could beat Granny and Pa-Pa at shelling a tub at a time. The only downside came when Granny went to can the peas; I hated the way her house smelled then.

Add another pearl.

But the worst memories I have of spending time at Granny's are getting bitten by mosquitoes or ants. The insect bites weren't nearly as painful as the treatment that Granny rendered. You had one of two choices: campophenique or methylaid (a/k/a monkey blood). Both stung like all get out. I later learned that she kept green rubbing alcohol in the bathroom and that it didn't sting nearly as badly, so I'd self-medicate my bites with that.

Add another pearl.

The funniest memory of Granny occurred in her living room. We were sitting there one day when a lizard appeared. Granny jumped three feet straight up in the air and landed on a hassock. I'm pretty sure that is the only thing that ever scared her.

Add another pearl.

Anyone who tried to prank call Granny received a rude awakening. Granny kept a wooden whistle by her telephone for the sole purpose of punishing anyone who called and just sat on the line without talking. She had zero tolerance for such antics.

Add another pearl.

Though I've briefly mentioned Granny's delicious cooking, I'd be remiss if I left off her chocolate meringue pies. I think she enjoyed making those more than cakes or brownies because her unlevel oven had less of a chance to make an unlevel pie than it did a 9 X 12 cake. Every time she made brownies, one end of the pan had 2" brownies while the other end held 1/2" brownies. They all tasted delicious despite their height.

Add another pearl.

One of the neat things about all of those memories is that they were made in an unairconditioned house that didn't contain expensive toys. As a matter of fact, the only toys at Granny's house were plastic cowboys and Indians that my older boy cousins had left there. There was such a simplicity and unfussiness about her life.

Add a beautiful pearl.

Even before Granny suffered some mini-strokes, her childlikeness reappeared. She revealed to my sister one day during the Christmas holidays that she had opened all the presents under her Christmas tree and rewrapped them. And because she had learned how to gift wrap at a local department store, her gift-wrapping talent could have hidden her secret forever.

Add another pearl.

Once I moved away from home, Granny began writing letters to me. She painstakingly handwrote each one and often sent cookies with them. One such letter prior to my gallbladder surgery in 2003 was as follows:

Dear Alyssa,
Sure was glard to hear
from you. Sorry about
your gal blatter problim
hope you are better. and
get well. and don't hafto
have sergery, we have
been praying for
you at church. Read
Acts 19 chapter verse 11-12.
where the Lord healed
the sick. And He still heales
to-day and time. God bless
you. I hope you find a
nice good house. to buy
Well I am keeping out
of the weather. I dont go
out in the afternoon I
cant take heat. I do my
out side work in the
morning mowing grass and
trimming tree limbs. Hope
you are doeing ok.
Love you

Add a pearl for each letter.

In light of her fixed income, the last thing that I wanted was for her to have to spend her precious money on stamps or stationery. So I purchased both for her for Christmas one year. The stamps had pictures of Impressionist paintings on them. When she opened them, she kept staring at them. I asked her if she liked them, and she said yes. Then, she continued to look at them some more. I finally told her, "Granny, those are stamps so that you can continue to write me." To which she responded, "Well, they don't say 32 cents on them anywhere." She never wrote me again. I laughed at the implication of having my own grandma accuse me of giving her "counterfeit" postage stamps.

Add another pearl.

It was around that Christmas that we noticed that Granny wasn't really herself. She would show up at odd times and forget what we had told her. My dad had passed away in August of that year and we gradually made the connection that his death had taken away more from her than just her son. It took away her reason for living because she no longer had anyone to care for. For so many years, she had mailed my dad a box of goodies each month. But without that monthly task to give her life meaning, her ninety-plus year-old mind began to fade quickly.

The recent things were the first to go. No longer did she spit out an entire recipe after being complimented on a dish she made nor did she recite what was on 2-for-1 sale at the grocery store. She didn't know where she lived, what year it was, or how much things cost. Only the things from long ago could she remember and talk about easily. But thankfully, she always recognized my sister and me. Even if she couldn't come up with our names, she could always place us.

Granny passed away two years ago at the age of 94. Yet there's so many things that remind me of her. Every time I see a calendar that shows the phases of the moon, I remember how she didn't want to get her hair cut when the moon was waxing or else she said that it would grow too fast. When I see an old Chevy Impala, I think of her old one and that she drove it until she was 91 (at which point she did not give up driving but instead bought another car). When I'm tempted to be lazy, I think about her mowing her yard at age 91. And when I am tempted to doubt God, I think about her faith.

Though the strand of pearls was completed years ago, it's as if I find a new one each time I journey down memory lane. God and Grannys are good like that.

Father God, thank You for choosing such a sweet lady to be my Granny and for giving her so much time to pour into my life. She loved me well and loved You above all else.

"That red blouse sure takes good pictures." (Granny wearing said red blouse on Christmas Eve 2005)

After her passing, four of my co-workers purchased a gift card to Ann Taylor for me and penned the following poem:

In memory of Granny and her fiery red blouse,
we figured you didn't need another plant about the house.
So here's to Granny, her spunk and her fire.
We know she'll be pleased with your new attire.

To precious memories of a life well-lived!


Momma Bean said...

Simply beautiful!!!

Kris said...

That is beautiful, what treasured memories!

Anonymous said...

what a beautiful tribute.

Renae said...

Alyssa, if you could only see the tears streaming down my face! What a rich gift she gave you - her time. Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to your granny. She would be proud. You are beautiful just like her. Tammy

kasogayle said...

Alyssa - thank you for sharing that..what beautiful treasures your memories will be glad you put all of that down to look back on someday!

Krista said...

I so enjoyed this, Alyssa! So now I think you just put the meaning behind the pearls you wore today-- never to be forgotten and the perfect keepsake for you. So glad you wrote this!

onevoice said...

I loved this several days ago when I first read it, but had to come back to it to comment. And I read it again! Loved it. My grandparents and my memories with them are such treasures, more precious than anything material I could possibly have. What a beautiful tribute.

Madison Richards said...

Wow. What an amazing testimony of the love and wisdom you received from your precious granny!

Thank you so much for sharing...


TJ Wilson said...

bits -just read this, it's lovely. so glad you captured her in words - and pearls! beautiful.