I grew up with my grandma. I mean, I had other people in my life, but my parents divorced early, my grandpa passed away when I was in fourth grade, and my dad worked quite a bit. So most of the time, it was my grandma and me. My Mamaw, if you want to be specific about it. That’s a common name for a granny here in my neck of the woods, and it fit her. She didn’t like being called Grandma or Granny or Nana. She was a Mamaw.
She was a cancer survivor. She was a businesswoman. She was a tough lady. She was a feminist.
I know she wouldn’t call herself that, but that’s what she was. She moved to Huntington and worked in a bakery on Fourth Avenue before she was married. I lived on that same block when I moved here at 18. She gave me advice that I didn’t realize until years later that I had followed rigidly.
She would let you know when she was mad at you (she invented the silent treatment, I’m convinced). But she never stayed mad for long. She would be busy baking something within a few hours that she would need you to taste, so she would have to break the silence for candy icing cake and instant coffee.
Her words and wisdom enter my mind on a daily basis. When I tend to my garden, I realize that I innately understand how to take care of it because I used to help her when I was young. We used to grow rows and rows of corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and whatever else looked good that year. The first time we grew cantaloupes she was pretty annoyed at how they tried to encroach on the rest of her precious plants. I think she was ready to pull them up, roots and all. But she pressed on, and we had melons in abundance that year. So every time I plant my garden, and I water my plants, I think about her.
When I look at my feet, I remember a saying she had about the length of my toes. My second toe is longer than the big toe (I don’t think this is oh-so uncommon), but she said that meant that I was going to be the boss. The boss of what? The household? Life? The United States of America? I don’t really know, but I still think of that whenever I have the consciousness to think about the length of my toes.
She told me a million stories over the years, many of them from her youth, many of them from her years of marriage, so many of them from the decades she lived through, good and bad, before I came along. I worry that I will forget them. I know I will forget some of them, but I will hold onto the ones I can. And I will remember the essence of her, of what she stood for and what she meant to me, even if the details fade to time.