I was incredibly lucky to have both of my grandmother’s for so long.
I lost my Memom just shortly after my 40th birthday in August of 2009. At 85, she still seemed larger than life to me. Some people seem invincible, even when you are 40.
My Mawmaw is still alive in a nursing home in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. She is not the Mawmaw I carry around with me — she really does not know me. I visit her, but it will never be the same. The fun, completely nonsensical lady on the tractor has been replaced by someone confined to a wheel chair, much less cantankerous and more obedient, but somehow content to be where she is.
The last time I visited her, I was feeding her a Sonic burger and she looked at me and said, “I used to know you when you were a little girl.” She said it with this glimmer in her eye and for a fleeting moment I felt like she was with me.
There is something a girl gets from her grandmothers that her mother can never give. Your Mom is just too close to you, too worried about you growing up to be a responsible human being with a strong character and the ability to take care of yourself. Your grandmothers can just be with you. They can be your buddy and both of mine were at different periods in my life.
I have a lifetime of stories from both my grandmothers and even a few with my great-grandmother, if you can believe it.
When I was a child, I spent my summers in Lead Hill, Arkansas. Lead Hill is a small town in the northwest corner of the state, about 30 minutes from Branson, Missouri.
I loved going to Lead Hill. It was like Disneyland for me, except it was a farm with cows, dogs, tics and a 1967 Volkswagen Bug. Yes, I said a Volkswagen Bug, the same Volkswagen Bug I came home from the hospital in when I was born in Honolulu. How or why it ended up as Mawmaw’s farm car, I am not quite sure. It was the first car I learned how to drive … when I was 10. (No, my mother did not give her permission for me to drive at 10, but Mawmaw never asked permission for anything, least of all from my mother.) Mawmaw was in complete charge of my physical well-being when I was on the farm, looking back, I often wonder how I made it out alive.
During the summers on the farm Mawmaw and Bob (like my grandfather), would bale hay. Lots of hay. In an effort to keep an eye on me she would fill an Igloo cooler with some Mountain Dew, pack up some Vienna sausages and crackers, and stick me under a tree with my favorite dogs, Rusty and Lassie. I am not sure this practice would get past child protective services now. Especially the part about the Vienna sausages … but I gobbled them up like they were something I should be happy eating.
Being six years old and full of Mountain Dew I was incapable of sitting still for the entire day so I would take off running. I would run in circles racing the tractors around the field and Rusty and Lassie would chase me. My overall safety was in the hands of an old, pudgy dog with a bad back and a collie. Somehow they kept up with me and by mid-afternoon I was on a blanket under the tree fast asleep. Trying to “race” tractors was hard work, and Rusty was always grateful when it was time to stop.
One day it was almost dark when we left the field. Mawmaw packed me up in her truck and Bob took off with Rusty and Lassie. We stopped at the neighbors house. I have no idea why, but Mawmaw told me to stay in the truck. I was six. I had just had a nap, and probably the last of the Mountain Dew. Sitting still was not something I was going to do for very long. And I didn’t.
I saw her on the porch talking to the neighbor, so I decided to join her. When I got out of the car I saw the neighbors dogs, and having no fear of dogs, I wanted to play with them. They came over and, after sniffing me up and down, the leader of the pack settled his teeth into my left arm and would not let go. I was screaming for Mawmaw and she came running down the hill telling the dogs to “Get out of here! Get. Get. Get.” she kept repeating it. In her effort to put my bleeding body back in the truck, safe from their clenches, she did not escape the pack. One of the dogs took a big chunk out of her calf. We were both bleeding all over the place, but somehow she managed to get herself in the truck and up the hill where Bob took us to the hospital. I am sure the neighbor was helping in all of this, but I only remember my Mawmaw. Everything else is a blur.
By the end of the night, I had 32 stitches and a now innate fear of unfamiliar dogs.
We remember things from when we were young as much larger and more dramatic than they probably were, but I know as sure as I am sitting here that Mawmaw would have given her life to save me that night. When we were at the hospital, she held me tight and she cried. “I love you, Tige. You’re my strong little, Tige.” She just kept repeating it and rocking me back and forth in her arms.
She called me Tige my entire life. When she stopped calling me Tige is when I knew she was gone.
She could be infuriating, especially to my Mom and my Aunt Ann. But to me she was like the hillbilly version of Auntie Mame. It was non-stop adventure and complete chaos, but I loved every minute of it and I will always cherish all the memories I have of my time on that farm.