I’ve been a little in my “feels” lately after one of my young cousins posted a pic of my grandmother and her best friend, both deceased and the latter just recently. The picture aptly captures their personalities- grandmother smiling holding her head and her bestie, “Mama Jones” as she was affectionately known by the fam, is grinning as if she’d just seen or heard something that made her say “jeepers” her beloved utterance.
These two got along famously often going shopping, indulging in Friday night bus excursions to flirt with “one armed bandits” at Foxwoods, and swapping giggles and gossip like the vintage teens they were.
My grandmother would’ve celebrated her 86th birthday this past March passing on 18 years ago in June of 1998. She was the matriarch of our motley crew of personalities. I remember her sweet smile like her homemade cakes and pies as vividly as I recall her shouts to close the front door and directives to not mess up her kitchen or to “hush all that racket.” That steely-eyed glaze would stop you in your tracks.
She may have ruled the roost with an iron fist but she also hugged with kid gloves and knew how to soften her octaves when necessary…like when she was dispensing her brand of wisdom like penny candy when she stated that I was “handicapped but healthy” and asked if I ever got out of breath pushing myself up those steps that led up to her back door on the second floor of the triple-decker we all lived in. Shaking my head in the negative she said “cause you got a good heart.”
It was my grandmother who informed my mother and insisted that” babies don’t crawl with their heads down.” She had given birth to 10 children and knew from experience that it wasn’t because I was a “fragile child” and not something I would “grow out of” as the pediatricians had tried to dismiss my mother’s concerns. My mother pressed on and was later referred to Children’s Hospital were I was eventually diagnosed with a congenital form of Muscular Dystrophy at age 5. The docs tapped textbooks and clinical experience; my grandmother tapped real life training.
I like to think I was one of her faves, told she often scooped me from my crib in the early morn, bathed, propped me up greased down on counter-tops sipping pot liquor —to my mom’s surprise and horror I imagine in waking to find her first born “missing.”
As a teen I remember the tears in her eyes when she found out that I’d fallen down the basement steps and broke my jaw. She’d blamed herself thinking it was because of the flimsy railing she’d been meaning to fix. I assured her the burden wasn’t hers because I’d worn slippers that flapped and caught the threshold sending me in flight and on a fun ride to the ER complete with a wired jaw. My grandmother drove me to all my follow-up appointments and even threw in a milkshake or two. The grander delight was alone time with one of my fave ladies doting on me and doling advice about all facets of life.
I recall our many jaunts to the mall, and how she held up the line at the check-out counters fishing for crumpled currency in her bra and pant legs as she regaled the cashier with stories of family and finance woe. I died every time of embarrassment but revived in time for the car ride back that inevitably included takeout or some tasty treat. She knew how to soothe weary souls no matter the trouble or fuss.
We use to always say my grandmother loved to take in “strays” aka friends and folks who either didn’t have much family or attached themselves in some way. Maybe they stuck around for the food or feeling of connection and care that she had a gift of giving. We all benefited from her generous spirit; her brand expanded the definition of family.
I miss her and even though she’s gone I know she’s not far. She lives in our hearts; her legacy lives on. And I know, I just know she’s fixin’ biscuits in heaven and toe-tapping to B.B. King, KoKo Taylor, Bobby Blue Bland and countless other Blues musicians. Mama Jones is tickled and clapping. I just know it.