An Ode to a Southern Grandmother

Willie Marie Evans, age 86By Tabitha D. Moore, Mason Jar Magazine, Editor & Publisher

Tears fill her eyes as she peels back the floral wrapping paper. For a moment, she’s speechless. When words begin to flow again, they come in spurts.

“How did you? Where did you get the …?” She stops short and then looks around the room. A single tears falls down the right side of her face … across a giant purple bruise. She fell earlier this week. She does that more often these days and it worries me.

It’s my grandmother’s 83rd birthday and for weeks, my sister’s been working on this surprise — a framed photo of my grandmother with her brother and sister. She often laments that she didn’t get to take a photo with them before they died. So, my sister paid a professional to Photoshop one together from two different images.

She stares at the photo for a long time and doesn’t say anything. You can almost see the memories play across her eyes like an old drive in movie.

“I miss them so much,” she says.

My grandmother is the youngest of three siblings: Clifford, Mary and Marie Grammer. Both Clifford and Mary have passed — him from leukemia and her from complications from heart surgery. Their parents — Floyd and Bessie — died a long time ago. My grandmother exists as the sole remaining member of her family — a fact that somedays weighs heavily on her. She reminds me constantly of the importance of family.

“No one will ever love you like your family does,” she says. “You’ll understand what I mean someday.”

The Grammer siblings grew up in the Lois community of Moore County, Tenn. and were especially close.

My grandmother, Marie, and her sister, Mary, married a set of brothers — GW (Pug) Evans and Wilford Evans. This made them Marie Evans and Mary Evans. I’m double first, second and third cousins with various people. Genetically, this is perfectly reasonable but my northern friends still look at me sideway when I try to explain.

Growing up, I can remember my Aunt Mary calling my grandmother almost every day. I’d answer the phone and she’d talk five solid minutes before taking a breath. Sometime I sat and listened. Other times, I just took the phone to my grandmother without interrupting. Then, they’d get on the phone and talk for an hour. When Aunt Mary called in the afternoon, you knew there was a good chance supper might be late. Oh Granny would pretend to be flabbergasted that Mary kept her on the phone for so long but I never bought it. Nobody who laughs that much is having a bad time. After Mary passed, I think the phone calls were thing Granny missed the most.

Uncle Clifford lived as a singular source of pride for my grandmother. Whenever he came to visit, she lit up like a Christmas tree. After he left, she’d brag about how handsome he was as a young man … about his military service … about all the big brother pranks he pulled on her as a child.

It was easy to be happy around Uncle Clifford. He loved practical jokes and when he got you with a particularly good one, he’d laugh so hard that no sound came out. He’d just shake up and down uncontrollably. I always knew when he was up to something. To me, he didn’t have a very good poker face. But he fooled my grandmother every time. She never once saw it coming, which made her a favorite target and she loved every minute of it.

His daughter once told me that I have Uncle Clifford’s sense of humor and I take it as a huge compliment. I guess she’s right. I pulled my fair share of pranks on my grandmother when I was young. My favorite came in the form of a Mexican chicken.

One Sunday afternoon after church, my grandmother cooked lunch for the family — like she did almost every Sunday of my life while my grandfather was alive. Anyway, the kitchen featured a fridge and sink along the right side, a stove at the back and a long eat-in bar along the left side with two stools.

I was nine, maybe 10, years old at the time. Granny was preparing to make fried chicken and placed a whole fryer on the cutting board on the bar. I hid behind the bar just waiting for my opportunity. When she turned to the sink, I stuck my hand into the bird but left it sitting in the exact same place. As she started to cut the leg off, I sat the bird upright and started screaming in a Mexican accent (why Mexican, I have no idea), “No senora, please no cut my leg off.” She ran from the room screaming while I laughed so hard I wet my pants.

After she figured out what was going on, she didn’t get mad. She just smiled and said, “Very funny. You know, that’s a pretty smart prank for a kid.” This only encouraged me.

Willie Marie has a great sense of humor but it’s her kindness that stands out most to me. I’ve never once seen her lose her cool with anyone. She’s not a push over but she doesn’t feel inclined to show her teeth. Instead, she broadcasts unconditional love in a way that makes you want to do things for her before she asks. What I wouldn’t give to have a single ounce of her grace.

Especially in moments that usually bring out the worst in others.

My favorite “Granny story” happens when I was about 13 years old. She’d just renovated her kitchen including new linoleum floors. I was spending the night and we were getting ready to watch my favorite prime time line up: Love Boat and Fantasy Island. We decided to make popcorn — the old fashion way on the stovetop in a covered pot — and I wanted to try and do it myself. I put in the oil, measured out a quarter cup of popcorn, turned on the eye and began gently shaking the pot back and forth.

Back and forth … back and forth … back and forth and nothing happened. Impatient, I decided to raise the lid and peep inside. At that exact moment, the first kernel popped. I freaked out and threw the whole thing to the floor — burning a seven inch circle into the new linoleum.

I stood there frozen and I’ll never ever forget what my grandmother said and did next. She calmly walked over, picked up the pot and placed it in the kitchen sink. Then she looked at me and smiled. Tears formed in both corners of my eyes.

“It’s okay, Taba,” she said. “It’s just a floor and a floor can be fixed. It was an accident. You didn’t do it on purpose. You’re not hurt and that’s the important thing.” Then she threw a rug over the burn and said, “Come on, were missing the beginning of Fantasy Island. I’ll never figure out what’s happening if we miss the beginning.” Then she put her arm around me and we watched the show.

Her grace in that moment taught me lessons that I’ll never forget … to forgive without being asked, to love the most when it’s the hardest, to place people above possessions and to look at the bigger picture.

My grandmother turned 83 today. If I’m very lucky, I’ll get to celebrate 84 next year. I can’t predict what the future holds but I know one thing for certain: No one will ever love me like my granny does.

Happy Birthday Willie Marie.

One comment

  1. Loved reading this! I remember your great grandparents. Your great grandpa was my grandmothers brother. They visited my grandmother a lot when my sister and I stayed with my grandmother during the summer. I’m sure I have pictures of them in my grandmothers group of pictures. My mom and dad use to visit with your Grammy and her sister. My son bought Clifford’s camera he had in his garage for 20 years or so and restored it! My grandmother was Lois Grammer and she married Lee Grammer. They were third cousins or something.

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