Friday, January 7, 2011

A Study in Southern Grandmothers: Tact v. Fire Bomb

In keeping with my recent Diamond Magnolia theme, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss persons very near and dear to my Southern heart:  Grandmas. 

Of course, deep abiding love and reverence for grandmas isn't a requirement of every good Southern boy and belle, but I feel comfortable saying that such feelings for one's grandma are present more often than not.  In addition to the revered 11th Commandment (Thou shalt not be tacky), we here in the South are also schooled on the 12th Commandment:  Thou will respect thy elders--particularly grandmothers--lest thou risk a swift and fierce whipping of thou's posterior.   

Our elders Do.  Not.  Mess.  Around.  My grandmothers are as different as night and day, but I have a healthy respect for each one's M.O. 

One of my grandmothers checked into Heaven to keep things straight sixteen years ago yesterday and not a day goes by that I don't miss her.  I have to say that she her approach, but she got things done.  She always spoke very evenly and with lots of grace, but she had more of that Jedi skill set where a person didn't realize that they were being handled.  "These are not the droids you are looking for."

Of course, there was always the truly obtuse individual who didn't respond to suggestion and they would therefore be subject to her patented "arched eyebrow."  Trust me when I tell you that The Eyebrow left no room for question.  I am proud to be the genetic recipient of The Eyebrow and it totally freaks my husband out, so I use it a lot.  I'll never forget getting up with Baby Belle 2 for an early morning feeding when she was only a few months old and catching her gaze as she swiftly sucked her bottle dry.  Out of nowhere, my tiny little baby gave me The Eyebrow and I suddenly felt the need to say "yes ma'am."  Ghostly.

The amazing thing is, I can honestly say that I never once heard Grandma raise her voice in the twenty-two years I had the privilege of knowing her and that is pretty amazing considering that she owned two thriving ladies clothing stores (with one of them being a wedding dress shop and, while Bridezillas is new show, trust me when I tell you that they still existed back in the day) was married to a homicide detective and had three children.  Of course, I wasn't yet born at the time my Grandaddy Ed loaded up pigs for transport in the trunk her her brand new car and I think most anyone would forgive that little slip. 

Now, my Grandma Willie turned 90 on November 11th and there's a sporting chance that she'll see me buried first.  Where my other grandmother had tact, Grandma Willie has a definite knack for calling 'em like she sees 'em.  In her book, tact is one of the dreaded four letter words.  She would rather save time and fire bomb the bush rather than waste precious moments dancing around it. 

Case in point:  Several Thanksgivings ago, we were all sitting around the dining room table eating and enjoying each other's company (or so we thought).  Out of nowhere, Grandma stood up, said, "I'm tired of you people," and promptly exited the room.  Granted, there were some with mouths hanging agape in shock, but those of us who really knew her just giggled and took it in stride.

This is the same woman who, during a visit across The Pond, gravely shocked a docent at Westminster Abbey.  When the  unsuspecting guide pointed out where the Queen sat during services, Grandma huffed and said, "Well, that's just the dumbest thing I've ever seen.  She ought to sit out with the rest of God's children."  We tried to tip the nice old fella handsomely, but I'm not sure if he ever really recovered from his brush with Hurricane Willie.  Bless him.

There's also that little something extra about certain older Southern women:  They have super powers.  I'm not talking about leaping tall buildings or stopping locomotives.  I'm also not talking about the [admittedly super] ability to make it through the Great Depression and World War II and raise a family.  No, I'm talking about...well...more of a sixth sense if you will.

I don't exactly know what you call it.  My dad calls it Black River Magic in reference to the area in South Carolina where Grandma Willie grew up.  For starters, the woman knows things.  If something is going on--someone is sick or someone is out of town--you can expect the call from Grandma and the first words you'll hear are "there's something you need to tell me." 

I know, I know.  I can hear you saying, "Well, that's just a good questioning tool."  Fine, but she only asks when there is, in fact, something we aren't telling her.  Mom doesn't like to spring things on Grandma because of her age and her tendency to worry, so we are on occasion called upon to not mention so and so's foot surgery or trip out of town or stomach bug and those situations are the only time Grandma makes that eerie statement.  It's gotten to where I refuse to comply with Mom's orders of silence because I get freaked out and I don't hold up under interrogation. 

I surely can't get mad at my brother for folding the same way I do.  In July, 2008, my parents went on a trip to Alaska and I was 8 months pregnant.  Mom and Dad hadn't been gone two days when my water broke and I found myself going into labor a month early.  When my husband called my parents to give them the fateful news, one of the first thing out of Mom's mouth was "We're on the way back and--for God's sake--don't tell Mother!"  About five hours into labor, my brother came in with a hang-dog look and his conversation with Grandma went a little something like this:

(Phone rings)  Ethan:  Hello?

Grandma:  Ethan--

Ethan:  Okayokayokay!  AshleyisinlaboratthehospitalandtheythinkeverythingisgoingtobeokaybutwecalledMomandDadandtheyarechartering aplanebackandshouldbeinbytomorrownight!

Folded like a Poker hand.  Greater men had gone before him.

Grandma also has the ability to make things happen.  My husband lost some weight and he didn't want to waste money in getting pants that would fit him better.  Every time Grandma Willie saw him, she'd say, "Scott, you need to get some new britches.  Those are about to fall off of you." 

Not more than twenty-four hours later, Scott's pants would rip and he would have to go and buy a new pair.  I suppose you can call that coincidence if you want to, but when it happened four times in a row, Scott no longer felt the need to test the hypothesis. 

So, us Southerners adore and revere our grandmothers.  I think you could say that we have a healthy respect for our elders all together.  They are a link to a different time and we would all do well to hear and learn their lessons.  Unfortunately, they had to learn a lot of life's lessons the hard way. 

Of course, if you see Grandma Willie out and your britches.

1 comment:

  1. You did both granmothers well. Loved it!!!