Monday, June 5, 2017

Kith and Kin

My early years were with my grandmother. I remember her face, her smile, her unconditional love. A small woman, she possessed an elegant grace and an enigmatic smile. One never knew what she was thinking. I thought of her as my mother though I knew she really wasn’t. Grandma was a unique individual, a woman wrenched from her idyllic life one Christmas Day in 1929. Her husband died in a plane crash, and mother told me of the long line of black cars outside their home. My grandfather, the first licensed pilot in North Carolina, had earned the respect of all. His pilot's license was signed by Orville Wright.

Grandma moved from her small town to a larger one, and having no resources, fed tobacco factory workers during their lunch hour to make a living. She was a wonderful cook and an excellent tailor. She would look at a dress in a store window and make one just like it without a pattern. I still remember my favorite, a shirtwaist dress with long sleeves.

A proud woman, she could be utterly charming or caustic with a smile. One memory that brings laughter is of a pretentious man walking away with a “did she just tell me off” look on his face and Grandma’s sweet, Cheshire-cat smile behind him. She was a major influence during my early years, accepting me with all my faults and frailties, never criticizing, always supporting. I never told her of my many failures, the family grapevine did that; but she always greeted me with a smile, a hug, and lots of love. I pleased her despite myself and to this day, I will remember the feeling with gratitude.

Grandma and I loved the trips we took home every year.  We would turn a nine-hour trip into fourteen or fifteen hours, stopping on the spur of the moment for anything that looked inviting.  We usually took the scenic route, staying off the interstates, so we passed through many little towns filled with craft and gift shops, fairs, and restaurants.

One year, I was in a hurry to get home.  Bad weather was on the way and I took Interstate 95.  Atlanta was notoriously busy and we hit it at rush hour.  I was a little nervous, but having taken the yearly trips home had given me a familiarity with the traffic. Grandma was sitting next to me with her hands folded, probably willing us down the road.  

I was in the middle lane when suddenly, a car shot from the left in front of me across all lanes of traffic headed for an exit on the right with no warning and no turn signal.  To my credit, I didn’t slam on the brakes but out came the dreaded “F” word followed by “you S.O.B.”  As soon as I uttered those horrible curses, I realized who was sitting next to me.   I spent the next few minutes profusely apologizing.  Grandma didn’t say a thing and when I finally stopped, without batting an eye, she patted my hand and said, “That’s alright, honey, I probably would have said the same thing.”

Many other tales come to mind, but this one always brings a smile. Thanks, grandma, for all the memories.


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