I come from a long line of strong women. My grandma Powers was one, for sure. My grandfather died at the age of 47 in 1939, leaving behind Grandma to raise the three kids alone. There was James, the oldest, my mom Patsy, and Wanda, the youngest.
My mom told us how her daddy died. She was in the room with him at the time of his passing. He came home from work early and wasn’t feeling well. Grandma told mom to go into the bedroom and take his shoes off for him. She did, and she heard a strange noise come from her dad. She called for her mom, and by the time she got there, her daddy was dead. It was a heart attack. He left no life insurance or money. I guess you don’t really expect to kick the bucket at 47.
Grandma and the three kids moved in with mom’s Aunt Jerry. That house was full of people because Aunt Jerry could never turn anyone away. Times were hard back then. Grandma got a job as a housekeeper and the kids fended for themselves quite a bit.
They ended up living there for about two years, until they moved into a tiny apartment. My grandma started working in a cafe, cooking. She was a good cook.
One day, the juke box man came in to pull the money out of his juke box and got to talking to grandma. He told her he knew about some restaurant supplies that were for sale and a tiny little space they could rent. He told her he would start her up in her own business. His payment would be the money from the juke box he would put in the place.
They opened up and it became quite successful. My grandma’s cooking was the draw. It was a tiny shotgun type building, and back then the health department wasn’t too strict. They were serving people out under the oak trees, and wherever they could put them. My uncle James worked the counter taking orders and after school my mom took over. The workers from the shipyard all came there to eat. They would look through the window of the cafe, see my mom back behind the counter barefooted. They’d say well, it ain’t gonna rain today because she ain’t wearing shoes.
As soon as James was old enough, he ran off and joined the Navy. My grandma was not happy about it. Mom had to quit school and take over James’ job so they could keep the restaurant going.
My grandma wrote her senator, congressman, anybody she could think of to get James back home. She explained he was the only male in the immediate family and she needed him at home to help support them. Good thing she did, because James was overseas and they were fixin’ to go to war when he got word he was going home.
Mom never did go back to school. James ended up dying at the age of 29 years of a heart attack. The same thing that killed his dad took him too.
Years later, my grandma remarried. His name was Billy Powers and he was a merchant seaman who was always traveling. She liked that fine. They lived in a little trailer on Harrisburg Blvd and had a nice yard to plant flowers. Billy would come home every few months, spend his time mostly drinkin’ and stay for a bit. Then, off again to exotic lands.
Mom would take my sister and I to visit grandma from time to time. It took us two bus rides across Houston to get to her house, so the visits were infrequent. I remember the spot where we had to change buses- somewhere in downtown Houston. There was a Russell Stover candy store and if there was time, mom would get my sister and I one piece of candy each. My favorite was a pink one filled with chocolate fudge.
What I remember most about grandma- she used snuff and was always spitting in a tin can. At the time, I had no idea what snuff was. I am glad I was ignorant of that fact because I probably never would have kissed her goodbye otherwise.
I also remember she sure could cook. My favorite meal when I would go visit was biscuits and sausage. She would make those biscuits, and fry sausage patties until they were nice and brown. She pulled the biscuits out of the oven and slathered them in butter. She would hunt in the bottom cabinet for a tin pie pan to put those biscuits in along with some sausage patties. Grandma would pour me a cold glass of milk, and place that pan in front of me. Then she did something amazing I have never to this day seen anyone else do. She took a cold pat of butter, mashed it up in the tin pie pan and poured Steen’s ribbon cane syrup over that butter. Flecks of cold butter floating in that dark, rich earthy tasting syrup. My idea of heaven in a tin pie pan.
When I want to indulge- I still have my Steen’s (that I have to order from Amazon) with biscuits and sausage. If I am feeling nostalgic, I’ll take a pat of butter and mash it up like grandma did.
Grandma Powers has been gone now for a long time- she died back in 1976. She was 82 at the time. The only thing I have of hers is an old engagement ring. She had the tiniest fingers, at least until the arthritis set in.
I have my memories too, which mean more than any ring ever could.
I can’t recall my grandma ever telling me she loved me, but I reckon she did.
Linda Lee Lyberg