My grandmothers--my goodness!
My namesake--Edith Alice--was a nurse. She raised six children as a single mother in the New Mexico desert. Remember the song "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down"? My grandmother gave medicine with a spoonful of whupass.
And my other granma--we shared a birthday. She once told me that I was her best birthday present.
This is the granma that I knew best--Iantha Nadine. I know she loved me--but her love wasn't the cookie-baking cuddly granma kind of love. Get this--she showed her love by telling me how disappointed she was in me. This was supposed to encourage me to be better person. But she never forgot a birthday, calling all four of us early on our birthdays and singing "Happy Birthday my darling!" every year until she died. She made sure we had school clothes and winter coats and Christmas presents.
Both of my grandmothers were born and raised in small Southern towns. both were daddy's girls. Both were swept off their feet by men who moved them away from their families.
Edith went from being a nursing student/flapper who flirted and danced and sang "Alice Bluegown" on Saturday nights with her friends on Saturday nights to a newlywed in Santa Fe, NM. Santa Fe in the thirties was very different than it is now. It was simply a desert with a few buildings and beautiful sunsets. She had one son and nine months later gave birth prematurely to twin girls at home. The first baby was born inside of the amniotic sac. While she labored with the second twin, she instructed her husband to sterilize his pocket knife with a flame and cut the sac open to save the baby. He did, she recovered and had four more babies in eight years. While property was cheap she bought real estate in Santa Fe. (Can you imagine? She owned parts of downtown Santa Fe. I should be on a yacht in the Meditarranean right now...) Of course, the deeds were put in her husband's name--and he lost them in poker games. Ultimately, she was a single mother, married to a gambler and a drunk who died when my mother was 14 years old.
By the time I knew her, she was worn out. My own mother remembers her as tired all the time--how exhausted she must of been by the time her 13th grandchild was born. She did not like me, not for a minute. My neediness and insecurity completely irritated her and she dealt with me accordingly. Sometimes, though, she would tell a story about her mother playing the piano, or sing "Alice Bluegown," and here face would light up with the memory. Her smile was so rare that it caught me off guard with its joy.
Nadine stayed in West Texas with her husband. West Texas is just barren. (Some see a desolate beauty in its plains--I think it's just plain ugly.). She had been so poor and shared so much with so many siblings that once she had something of her own, it was going to be perfect. When she had visitors in her apartment, she would get down on her hands and knees to wipe thier footprints off the floor. She had one child, and she was determined that he would be clean ALL THE TIME. She put Joan Crawford to shame with her cleanliness. It wasn't next to godliness--it was godliness. Her husband was a man of few words--I think I heard him speak maybe a hundred words or less in the 28 years that I knew him--and I'm being generous.
Both of these women confused me. I wanted so much for them to be the cozy, cuddly ganmas that I had read about--with hugs, and aprons, and laps to climb onto, and cookies--always cookies--but neither had it in them be these things. It was only after we switched roles and I stopped wanting something from them that I truly got to know them. My granmas stood alone through disappointment and hardship and heartbreak with no one to lean on--until they had to trust me. I finaly found the strength that had borne them throughout their harsh lives that left no room for joy.
In her last days, Nadine sought me out to hold her hand while she prepared to move out of her home of 30 years. After a lifetime of independence, she was being told what to do, where to live, how to spend her money. She really, really didn't want to move--and I told her she didn't have to. We talked about her new little mobile home until she was satisfied that she could be happy there--then she went HOME the very day she was to leave her house.
Edith couldn't tel me anything--she died of Alzheimer's. The last time I saw her, she didn't understand why I was saying good-bye. Her confused, hurt look haunted me until a few days after she died. She came to me in a dream, laying her soft cheek on mine and said, "I understand."
Unsmiling Pillars of Strength,
You have given me the gift of never give up.
You have given me the gift of never look back.
You have given me the gift of making the best whupass pie.
You have given me the gift of your regrets in order to forge joy in my own life--and I have.
My life honors you.
My daughters honor you with their strength and freedom to sing and dance and be.
And I know wherever you are, you are finally smiling.