For the past 30 years, I have been blessed to have both my grandmothers and one great-grandmother still living. I had both of my great-grandmothers until I was 20! The women on both sides of my family live long lives. We are a tough breed to take down.
On September 21, 2017, we said goodbye to Granny, my remaining great-grandmother.
The Newberry countryside that surrounds the church where my Granny attended.
I knew when I saw the telephone. My cellphone screen lit up with word “Nana,” and I just knew. Granny’s body and mind have been failing her for some time. While she always presents with a smile and good manners, that is more symbolic of her tough and southern nature than her actual health. Her body was tired and frail. Her mind had begun to deceive her so that the familiar was foreign. After over 90 years on this earth, and more than 15 years without her husband, it was time for her to be with Granddaddy. She was also due to experience the peace and comfort that life could no longer offer her. So, she left this earth for the life that has been promised to her by her faith and her salvation. The hospital rooms that had become her second home have been traded in for a room in heaven. The best part about this is that it doesn’t matter if I believe in heaven or if you do. She did. And she worked her whole life to be a woman of God. So the reward is hers regardless of who believes it.
Trinity United Methodist Church in Newberry was where Granny’s faith was nurtured – she loved this church back when it didn’t have air conditioning (as made evident by the fans on the wall).
Despite having worked with older adults for years and being surrounded by death, this hurts. Sadness comes over you like a heavy cloth on your shoulders. The weight of it makes you feel burdened to this earth. And it drapes across you in a way that is uncomfortable and unnatural, but you don’t reposition it. To attempt to adjust it would be pointless because the weight is the same regardless of how you hang it. You become tired from walking with it. Eventually, you think about not walking, not moving at all. You want to be still. But life won’t let you so you continue walking and the exhaustion is overwhelming. Even harder is the smile you give to everyone else because the look of their pity or the touch of their awkward hugs offers no comfort. So you smile. People smile back at you. And that cloth of sadness clings to your back. I carried that cloth with me from the moment I got the phone call until I made it back to Virginia on Monday. Sometime Monday night I finally shed it and folded it away in a corner best forgotten until it is time to bring it out again. It is time to replace my mourning with remembrance.
I took these during a morning stroll through downtown Newberry.
I remember Granny in the kitchen for most of my early childhood. She and my Grandaddy had a dairy farm. And those mommas need to be milked bright and early every day. So she woke up early to start cooking a hearty breakfast for the men to enjoy when they came in from milking. She was the last one to sit at the table – she simply couldn’t rest until everyone else was cared for. I can fondly remember my Granddaddy scooping her up one morning as she walked by and firmly sitting her on his lap while demanding she stop and eat. (He was a tower of a man and she was a thin woman that seemed even smaller in his presence. When he set his mind to scoop you, there was little you could do.) Once everyone was done eating, she stayed in the kitchen. She tidied the dishes, wiped the counter tops, and promptly began the task of preparing lunch and starting dinner. She would briefly rest between lunch and dinner for an hour or two and again that evening once the clutter of dinner had been cleaned away. She sat in her chair directly across from Granddaddy’s recliner and that was the conclusion to most nights. I wish I had developed that type of dedication to the kitchen. Not because it feels like a domestic requirement that most women achieve but because her work demanded that we all get together and eat our meals together. Our attendance was mandatory and I can still remember cramming around their wooden dining room table for meals.
I can’t recall her saying an ill word about anyone, even though we likely gave her plenty to complain about. She hugged every single person she came in contact with. I get my hugging from her. (Ask anyone in my hometown church – I was known as “The Hugger.”) It didn’t matter if you were a stranger or family, she hugged your neck. And if you thought you could get by without giving her one, she outright asked for it. You might be able to say “No.” to everyone on this earth but you couldn’t deny that sweet request. No one felt unwelcome or out of place in her presence. I hope I can achieve that level of genuine hospitality in my own home.
My Auntie Anne, Nana, Momma, and Uncle Jeff.
She was our matriarch. My first memories of Thanksgiving dinners were in the home she shared with Granddaddy. There were more people in that house than good sense but we did it every year. The children sat at a card table on the opposite end of the kitchen from the dining room table where the adults sat. We quickly ate our lunch in hopes of dessert even though Granny and/or Granddaddy had already slipped us an oatmeal cream pie before lunch while our parents weren’t looking. She created this beautiful meal for us and it brought us from down the road and across state lines. Every single person in that room that could make a claim to the Waldrop blood line, with the exception of Granddaddy, owed that claim to her. She brought three children, nine grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren into this world. How incredibly amazing and powerful that one woman was able to expand her family in such a tremendous way? The thought of that makes me proud to be a woman, proud to be her great granddaughter, and proud to have the opportunity to walk this earth as she did.
What started as a daughter grew into three siblings which continues to be a growing family. We are missing a few people (and dogs!) in this picture but the idea is the same – this family will always be changing and expanding but remains connected all the same.
Thirty years to share with a great-grandparent is such a blessing. I also can’t help but shake the feeling that my love of working with older adults is largely shaped by the fact that I grew up surrounded by great-grandparents and grandparents. I sat at the table surrounded by adults and listened to their conversations despite having little knowledge of the material. I was punished and corrected by them when I stepped out of line. I curled up on their laps in pursuit of security and love. I kept their secrets when they let me get away with things. They were central to my childhood. With two grandmothers still living, the older generations of my families will continue to be part of my adulthood. And should Bradley and I ever choose to expand our family by two feet instead of four paws, those same generations will guide and direct those children. Like I said, the women in my family live good and long. So my (hypothetical) children will have grandparents and great-grandparents. And while they won’t have Granny in-person, they will have Nana to sneak them sweets after I have forbidden it, and they will have my momma to dig in the dirt with. And I’ll teach them the power of a hug over a handshake.
I saw this on one of the tombstones and it was written exactly as I imagined her.
Granny, I’ll miss you. Terribly at times. I hope I’ll seek your lessons in times of uncertainty and that I can help raise future women in our family how to be gracefully Southern, generously hospitable, domestically savvy, and tougher than nails. Thank you for giving me thirty years. And thank you for still loving me after I threw that huge tantrum in the McDonald’s play pit. You know the one.
Thank you to Trinity United Methodist Church for hosting our family and the funeral services. She loved that church – there was no better setting for her send-off than in that sanctuary. Thank you to everyone that showed up for the service. What an honor to her life to be celebrated with full pews and tearful eyes.