The holidays always make me miss my loved ones who have passed on. I never stop missing my Mother and have such fond memories of my cool Uncle Ricky.
Tonight, I am thinking about my Grandparents. Each has impacted my life in such a signicicant way and each was so very different from the other. My Grandma Joyce is still alive and kickin’. Don’t mess with her! She’s still just as sharp as a dagger and will quickly outwit you if there’s any outwitting to be done. Mess with the Bull and you get the horns!
I’ll start with her. I don’t know why we call her Grandma Joyce’instead of just Grandma. It’s just the way it is. This is a woman who defines funny. She’s always quick to jab herself for humor’s sake but when she means business, she means business! When she was 17, she lost both of her parents in a factory fire. She then assumed the role of ‘Mother’ to her younger siblings. She met and married my Grandfather Sanford, who died well before I had the chance to meet him. I’ve been told we had similar traits. She was a ‘career woman’. Obviously, this was not common of women in the 40’s but she and Sanford worked their cabooses off for the state of Texas in order to provide a stable/plush environment for my mother, who would be their only child. As a child, I couldn’t get enough of my Mother’s recounting of her own childhood. Her childhood home was where all of her friends chose to hang out, play poker, kid around with my Grandparents and be taken out on the boat to spend hours water-skiing at the lake. In her 40’s, my Mother could still water ski like a pro. She wasn’t a show-off by nature but she sure was while out on the water. Us kids focused on just staying upright on skis while Mama put us all to shame.
Grandma Joyce was re-married to my Step-Grandpa Cecil. He was the only Grandpa we ever knew on that side and they married long before any of us girls were born. Still, we always called him Cecil and never questioned it. Grandma Joyce didn’t drive. She knew how to and had done so previously but that skill was never witnessed by her Grandchildren. Joyce liked to go, go, go! So visits were never boring. We’d all load up into one of Cecil’s classic project cars with the staple provisions of Gatorade and Nutty Butty Bars. Cecil knew his cue and it was time to motor when Grandma Joyce shouted “Go, Tiger, Go!” Grandma Joyce also didn’t cook. I’m sure she had at some point but that skill was also not witnessed by the Grandchildren. We didn’t mind because we knew a road trip would ultimately end in burgers, fries and shakes from Star’s Burgers.
Cecil did cook. Cecil was a very handsome man who smelled of Old Spice, Peppermint and Motor Oil. While technically, retired, he still maintained a home-based garage where he did paint and body work on his classic cars. “Red” was his baby. It was a 1957 Chevy stepside which he had fully restored and technically was maroon. The man put countless hours of work in to it so if they wanted to call it “Red”, red it was. Cecil always had starlight mints in his pockets. His hair was white and cascaded above his crown like seafoam. His hands were tools and he could make everything out of anything. He could cook too. I only remember two things that he made: Apple Butter and Brisket. The Apple Butter was the perfect accompinent to a simple breakfast of wheat toast, eggs and bacon. The Brisket ruined me for life. True Texas Brisket is a labor of love that requires at least 12 hours of “baby-sitting”. Cecil did not believe in taking short cuts and commited himself to a full 24 hours of slowly cooking his Brisket over Mesquite. The result was a sumptuous, savory Brisket in which all of the fat had been rendored,causing it to melt in your mouth like meaty-tasting butter.
Christmas was especially fun at The Colbath’s. It was on rare occasions that we got to visit them for the Holidays at their home in the Texas hill country but they always made it magical. They were Grandparents who loved being Grandparents and spoiling us girls was their favorite activity. Once let inside the iron gate that was adorned with two giant pistols and the neighborly message “We Don’t Dial 911”, Joyce and Cecil would present us each with new, fancy nightgowns. Once we were all cozied up in our Christmas jammies, we were always required to put on a show for them. Laura would be forced to sing “Bye, Bye, Baby Goodbye” by Janis Joplin, I would be forced to do my “famous” Rhett Buttler/Scarlett O’Hara impressions and Annisa, who loved the theatre was willing and eager to recite monologues or poems. Part of the fun was acting embarassed by the attention that we were secretely eating up. Cecil and Joyce pulled no punches when it came to gift giving. On Christmas morning, each girl received a giant potato bag that was filled to the brim with shiny, wrapped presents. I remember only two of my gifts. One was a beautiful lavender dress set. It had everything a four year old girl could want. It had ruffles that did not stop, matching panties with ruffles on the back (that I insisted on wearing backwards so I could see them), tights and a tiny lavender rose corsage. The second gift I remember was a Sterling Silver Hershey Kiss necklace made by James Avery. That gift was particularly special because matching ones were given to my sisters. While I don’t remember most of the actual gifts, I remember the delight on my Joyce and Cecil’s faces as they watched us open each one. It’s true that material things don’t matter in the grand scheme of things but giving us all they could made them happy. Knowing that that made them happy, makes me happy.
“Mammaw and Pappaw” were simpler folk. They hardly ever dined away from home and when they did, it was at “Po’Folks” which served the exact same cuisine as what was made at home. Mammaw was a cook’s cook and while she could never provide exact measurements, most of my family recipes come from her. Mammaw could be kind of mean. She had well-manicured nails as thick as a chalkboard and would use them to paint imaginary pictures on the table while she retold a story. The hand gestures never made sense but she could make a mean meal.She wasn’t always mean and at times she could be downright loving but her Grandchildren were keenly aware that she enjoyed being a Mother more than a Grandmother. My favorite memories of her are her giggling like a school girl at my Pappaw’s jokes. After decades together they never stopped flirting with each other. They were in love.
Mammaw and Pappaw met when she was 16 and he was 20. They both lived and worked on adjacent dairy farms and were married when she was 17 and he was 21. The Depression had begun and when farming wasn’t an ideal option, my Pappaw joined the Army. His unit was the 10th Mountain Division and his training in Colorado included, skiing, snow shoeing and mountain climbing. During the conflict, the division had one of the highest casualty rates. Thankfully, a jeep rolled over on him before he was ever depoloyed. His injuries were critical and he almost lost a leg but he was honorably discharged and made a full recovery.
After he was discharged, he became a professional glass blower and it was time for them to start a family. Try they did but heartache after heartache ensued. After carrying to term, delivering and bringing home two babies that died in the middle of the night, they opted to adopt. When they finally adopted my Dad and Uncle Ricky, their family unit was complete. Mammaw understandably doted on her boys and coddled them like infants until they were both well in to adulthood.
My Pappaw was a nut. He was a firecracker and he was my most favorite. I realize you’re not supposed to admit to having family favorites but he and I were kindred spirits.
With his own two calloused hands, he built his dream home in the deep woods of East Texas. The house was tiny, it was rudimentary and only had two bedrooms but it boasted two wood-burning stoves. It was the definition of cozy.Not a lot of cars drove down the clay road that led to Mammaw and Pappaw’s, so they always heard us coming and were always eagerly waiting on their little front porch as we pulled in to the drive. Pappaw always greeted us girls with a “Hey Sister, good to see ya”. He never let us carry in our own luggage and as soon as we, the dogs and the bags were inside, he’d usher us to warm ourselves beside the fire that he’d been so tenderly caring for. Pappaw taught me how to drive a tractor, he advised me that if I ever came across a Copperhead Snake, I should step on it’s head because “they pop right off”. These aren’t lessons that I’ve ever applied to my actual life. Still, they are unique to me and nice to have in my arsenal, just in case.
Christmas at the Owens’ home was sparse in comparison to the Colbath home. The house wasn’t quite as sprawling and the furnishings weren’t so plush. Still, my sisters and I were (mostly) content to share the same lumpy mattress of the pull-out couch.
Every meal was made with love on the kitchen’s wood-burning stove and waiting for those meals while the aromas tickled our taste buds was sheer agony. The waiting always made the food taste so much better in the end. In the mornings, we were awakened to the scents of homemade biscuits, sausage, bacon, eggs and fresh gravy, all prepared by Pappaw. Christmas dinner couldn’t come soon enough as we were tortured by the enticing smells of Cornbread Dressing, Chicken and Dumplings, Ham, Turkey and so many Pies.
We were given presents at Christmas by Mammaw and Pappaw. They weren’t expensive or elaborate. They weren’t memorable. What’s memorable is sitting down to dinner. Pappaw would say “Ya’ll find what’s fit to eat and eat it”.
Everything was fit to eat. We all ate to our heart’s content and then reconnected in the dark, with only the light of the fridge as we contented ourselves a little more.