My grandma Helen died of cancer at the age of 62- the age I am now. I was 9 at the time. I attended the funeral, but I didn’t understand. Who understands the finality of death at 9?
As a result, I didn’t get to know her. The things I do know about her are from talking to others along with memories of my own.
According to my research, she married my grandfather when she was 19. He was 34. Married for 44 years until his death in April 1963. Grandma was not far behind him, dying in July of 1964.
From others, I know she was in Vaudeville with my grandfather. She was a blues singer. Between the time my dad was born in 1926 and 1930, she ended up in New York City. Alone. Family rumor has it she left my grandpa with all the boys and tried to make a go of her career. There is a census record of her being a boarder in NYC in 1930. My research has turned up nothing more. She returned to Texas at some point to care for my grandfather.
What do I remember? She wore Evening in Paris perfume. Her dressing table filled with different sizes of the quintessentially timeless blue bottles. Her scent lingers with me even today; violets, rose, carnation, and a hint of powder.
From the few pictures I have I know she loved me. I know I loved her given the way I hugged her neck in this photo.
She was tough, yet feminine. Straight forward, no beating around the bush.
I had first hand experience with this toughness one steamy summer’s night. I was 7 at the time. Grandma shaking me awake.
“Wake up, Linda Lee. There’s an animal on the porch, I need you to hold the flashlight.”
Barefoot in my nightgown I creep outside with her. My terror is overwhelming. She has a hoe in her hand and she’s serious. Point the light over there she says. Shaking, I obey. When grandma told you to do something, you didn’t argue.
Two beady red eyes peering from the darkness; a fat possum. That’s the one been after my chickens and eggs. Open your eyes and hold the light steady now. Grandma goes after him with a vengeance. He tries to escape but gets stuck in the porch slats. Poor fella didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. Trapped, nowhere to go but possum heaven. Brilliant red blood splattered the white porch slats and my bare feet. It’s done she says. Come back inside, we’ll clean up in the morning. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night thinking about what I witnessed and what the dawn would bring.
One Easter my dad had given me a baby chick. I couldn’t keep it at home where I lived with mom, so it stayed at Grandmas. I would go visit on the weekends. That chick grew up to be a rooster. Meaner than a junkyard dog. People don’t give much credence to chickens other than the fact they can lay an egg and make for a great Sunday after church dinner. This rooster was one smart fowl.
I would step out the back door to go play. I did everything I could to be quiet.Wouldn’t let the screen door slam. Trying my best not to bring attention to myself. No matter; he would be lying in wait for me. As soon as he was sure no one was around, he jumped me. Every single time.
If someone else was in the yard, he played nice. If I was alone, he was a brown/black feathered demon, attaching himself to my back like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. Relentless.
I told grandma about it, but she paid me no never mind. Thought I was exaggerating.
Until one day when the rooster made a fatal mistake. Grandma was out hanging sheets on the clothesline. I stepped out to go talk to her. The rooster didn’t see her; the sheets hid her presence. He jumped me;I yelled.
Grandma whipped from behind those sheets. Saw me running around the yard with that rooster hanging on my back. This time, digging his talons in to leave a mark on his victim.
I tell you now, that rooster wasn’t long for this world.
Grandma took me in the house and patched me up. Told me not to worry anymore about that rooster. Cursing under her breath the whole time.
The next day grandma picked up that unsuspecting rooster. Held him tight and with one mighty twist,wrung his neck. She cooked him and served him up for dinner. Put him right in the center of the table, all proud.
“See there? I keep my word. Nobody, especially no crazy rooster is messin’ with my girl. I told you not to worry about that rooster, Linda Lee. Now eat up child. He might be a little tough, but I soaked him in buttermilk first.”
I never heard it from her lips, but I reckon that day grandma showed me she loved me in the best way she could. What did I do? I went to bed hungry that night.