My brother and I spent many after school hours and summers with my grandparents. We developed lifelong relationships with them that to this day continue to be a blessing. Since Mamaw was also the head cook at Loudendale Elementary, she would get home before us on school days. She would sometimes bring home leftover food for us for snacks, my favorite being the peanut butter sandwiches on homemade bread, and a few scraps of food for our dog Spike. Mamaw hated dogs, so she said, but I think she liked the fact that Spike was always standing at the gate smiling at her with his tail when she got home from work.
Another thing I learned growing up with my grandmother was that she was horribly afraid of thunderstorms. She told me the story of the time when she was just a little girl, she was outside playing and fell asleep under a large bush. When she awoke, there was a horrible storm and she was terrified. After that experience, she became a nervous wreck any time the sky began to grow dark. There were unwritten rules my brother and I had to follow if a thunderstorm was approaching on Mamaw’s watch. First, we couldn’t use the telephone. She convinced us that lightning would strike us dead if we were talking to someone during a storm. Second, stay away from the kitchen sink. She was certain the electricity would come right through the kitchen window and electrify us on the spot. Third, we had to immediately go downstairs to the garage and wait for the storm to pass. Many spring afternoons during a storm, the three of us would sit in the dark garage in Mamaw’s Chevette waiting for the all clear sign—no lightning or thunder. To this day, I have a completely irrational fear of thunderstorms over which I have no control. I don’t hide in my garage, but you can best believe that I won’t be near the kitchen sink talking on the telephone!
Papaw Charlie was quite a strange fellow–quiet and reserved at times, angry and rude at others. The one thing about Papaw Charlie was that he was consistently inconsistent. You never knew what he would say, what he would do, or where he would go. One morning he got up, packed the car and drove to California to visit his sister Rose. We didn’t even know he was going until he was gone. I learned at a young age not to cross him, argue with him, or disagree with him. It was his silence that bothered me most since I never knew where he was coming from or what he was thinking from day to day.
There were times of sweetness in my memories of him though. Many times I remember following him from his kitchen to the livingroom, hot on his heels as he carried his coffee cup, dripping hot drops of brown liquid on the floor of the hallway, all the way to the brown vinyl recliner in the living room. He would settle in and I would hop up and settle in the crook of his arm, content to sit there with him as he drank his coffee and watched TV. Papaw must have been quite at a loss as to what to do with me since I was the first girl born into his family after three sons and a grandson. Some years after he passed, my grandmother found a bag in the back of his closet. In it were two brand-new 1970’s style dresses, complete with tags, size 6, from JC Penney’s.
They were a gift to me from Papaw that I never received.
I don’t know why he never gave the dresses to me. Maybe he didn’t think I’d like them, maybe he thought he wasn’t good at picking out clothing for little girls. Whatever the reason, I’ve kept those dresses, in the same bag, with the tags still attached, so that I will always remember he was thinking of me even when I thought he wasn’t. From Papaw Charlie I inherited my intelligence. There’s no doubt in my mind that the man was some type of genius, who never really related well to his own family. He once gave me a book, Smoley’s Logirhythms, a book of mathematical formulas and numbers that I was just as excited to receive as he was to give. We couldn’t talk on a fashion level, but with math, we could relate.
Papaw Charlie passed away at home on Father’s Day 1994, just a few weeks before my wedding. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized how much I missed him. Very few people had gotten to know him, mostly because of his quiet nature and sometimes scary demeanor. But I knew he loved me and was proud of me, and I suppose I will always miss that side of him.
(See Parts 1 and 2 of Growing Up in the previous posts. Essay concludes, next post.)