She was born in a little holler in south central West Virginia. One of numerous kids, not quite the baby, but not the oldest either. She went to school in a one room school house, and always had a life long love of reading and learning. Her Daddy was a traveling preacher, but also share cropped, and they had a little orchard at the home place where the kids would sell produce by the side of the road. Most money earned by their Daddy was given to help struggling families around his circuit. But they were a rich family in many ways too.
When she was 15 or so, a real hill beauty, she met a boy, just passed 16, at Virginia Beach. He called himself Johnny, and he was headed off for the Pacific somewhere. Joined up out of the coal mines when Pearl Harbor was hit. She never forgot that boy, and he didn’t forget her either. After a few ships were blown up from under him, and his finishing off his tour on a Destroyer in the Pacific, they got married. His name wasn’t really Johnny- he’d told her that because he wasn’t sure if she’d like him, or that he’d like her long enough to know his real name.
Dennis and Dorothy began a family of their own in West Virginia before heading south for his work in heavy equipment, helping build the A-1A bridge over Sebastian Inlet on Florida’s east coast. After a few other state projects including construction of what would be later called Alligator Alley, the family of 5 kids settled down in a little town in south west Florida.
She worked part time at a nursery as well as raising the kids. When the kids were teens, they bought a 5 acre tract south of the city, in the place I have referred to as “The Swamp”, but what Michael called “Dear Bought Land” as soon as he laid eyes on it.
Dorothy was his mom. Everyone knew her as Dot. She loved for folks to call her that, but to me, and American Boy, she’s always been… Grandma.
I don’t know a lot about Grandma, except that I loved her and that she loved me. She loved American Boy, and loved her son, and every member of their extended family. She was loved by everyone who met her- because she was real and full of love and grace.
It was my hand which held hers, or should I say she clung to when her beloved Johnny went home. American boy was about 6 months old and had never gotten to know his Papa. Six or so months before, it was grandma that I called to ask her if my water had broke and she said oh yes! You best get to the doctor as quick as you can.
When the boy was able to walk by himself, I’d stand at the side door of our place and watch him clumsily run to his grandma’s next door. He’d pull open that screen porch door and I’d hear her voice sing, “Well good morning Mr…..” She’d do that every time, whether he came once in a day or multiple times.
She was like that. She loved company, whether they were three, looking for cookies she’d baked, or to watch cartoons on her satelite stations… or whether it was a mixed up, recently divorced, hurt filled duck, unsure of anything or anyone. She treated me like family from the first day, and never made me feel like an outsider, never feel like I wasn’t good enough… only welcomed and loved.
When my family or friend came to visit over the years, they were considered her family too. Everyone loved Dot. But I loved Grandma.
And Grandma loved me.
We fought over politics.
If y’all think I’m stubborn- I swear I’m not as stubborn as she was. She was a blue dog Dem from way back and by golly, they were for the workin’ man and loved everyone. We fought. We argued. We lamented, but we always made up, and continued trading Sundays for dinners.
She loved to cook, and she loved to bake. And the more folks to come, the better. Everything from big breakfasts with a table laden with home made biscuits, sausage or “poor man’s gravy” (made of scalded coffee) bacon and eggs- like ya like um’s… to pot roast dinner with her famous and most awesome ever pies made from scratch with her always perfect crust. Lemon Merangue (which wasn’t my favorite- but it was when she made them) or cherry/cranberry… to her indescribable white cake with cherry jelly filling in between layers, slathered with boiled frosting and drizzled with just a right amount of shredded coconut…… I believe she won a county fair blue ribbon for that cake one year.
She lived her life pleasing others because it pleased her to have a house full of happy, contented folks. Whether it was neighbors, kids, grandkids or strangers.
She loved outside and outside things. Like flowers and trees. Every day I’d see her outside picking weeds, watering or feeding flowers, setting seed out for birds & critters, pruning one of her many trees. She also mowed. Push mower- into her 80’s. The only time she wanted help was to haul off baskets of tree debris or leaves, and the boy would help too. As she got older, and more frail, the boy would help her around her house, help her get her diabetes blood doohicky thing ready for her. He’d help her in the kitchen, and she taught him a lot in those times. I was and am so proud of how he helped her. Because he loved her. And she loved him.
It was my hand which held hers, or should I say she clung to when her son, my husband died.
She had lost one of her daughters years before I was invited into the family to cancer, and also a baby when she was young and miscarried. She had survived the depression, war, death of brothers, sisters, son, daughter, husband and still lived life to the fullest, with faith that God was taking care of every one of them and she’d see them again some day.
Yesterday was that day.
I got a phone call from my sister in law when I got off work. In the parking lot of work to be exact, letting me know that Grandma had gone home. To a full reunion she has been looking forward to for a long time. She knew she was going too. When she got up and the nurse was getting her ready to start the day, she said, “Johnny is coming to get me today.”
Andy and I lost our Grandma. She was 93 years. Andy will be 18 in two weeks, and we’ll both miss her for so many reasons.
But boy, she is home and I am so glad for that.
I know this is kind of an odd article today, but Grandma loved people. And she loved those who love me. I wanted you all to know a little bit of her so you could know how much of an incredible and exceptional person she was, but who was a major part of my life for the past 18 years.
She taught me to appreciate the simple things in life, and while I always had a love of the things God gives us in nature, she taught me how to be still enough to see His hand in it. She taught me how to have patience with the boy, and taught me how to laugh again. She taught me that one could love and be loved by their mother in law, and that a mom could live next door to her grown kids and their family’s yet still not be a ‘mothering’ mother. She taught me how to respect and be respected. She taught me how to forgive, how to love, even in anger, how to live, give and how to receive love.
She came a long way since the holler, but she was proud of her roots. I am proud and grateful to have been a part of her even for a little while.
Rest easy Grandma. Tell Michael and Daddy we’re doing ok.
We’ve all had important people in our lives, some longer or shorter time, but embedded in our hearts. Now that I’ve shared a bit of Grandma with my family here, if there’s anyone you want to share, now would be a right time to celebrate their lives.
I hope everyone has a blessed and happy Saturday.