Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memories of a Grandmother I Never Knew ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, Georgia

I must have been told early on that I had only one grandmother, and that one grandmother was Mammo, who was my mother’s mother. The reason for this was because my father’s mother died in 1920 during the influenza epidemic that swept the world like a giant tsunami wake, killing millions. She was 34 years old when she died and pregnant with her fifth child, a baby who would have grown up to be my aunt or uncle.

I didn’t miss the grandmother I never knew. In fact, I remember thinking that being partially grandmotherless made me interesting, having someone who should have been something to me die before she ever had the pleasure of meeting me. It was the only sad part of my family’s history as far as I knew, so I believed it added a tragic element to my otherwise boring short biography

In my child mind, I never thought about my daddy or my aunts and the fact that they’d lived most of their lives without a mother and how hard it must have been for them. That’s because when I met them they were my grown up daddy and aunts and they seemed just fine.

It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realized what a sad thing it was that my grandmother wasn’t given a life long enough to see her children grow up. And it wasn’t until I became a grandmother that I was able to see what my own grandmother missed and what I missed never having had the chance to love her, to sit in her lap as she recounted her own memories, telling me I looked just like she did at my age.

My daddy and his sisters didn’t talk much about their mother. The only story I recall my father telling was one about his mama being all dressed up to go out and his pitching a fit, causing her to cancel her plans. My aunts, who were only five, three, and one when their mother died sadly had very few first-hand recollections of her and just a couple of photographs, one of which was her wedding picture.

When my father passed away in 1994, I was still young enough not to have given much thought to the family stories he could have told me. Not asking more questions when I had the opportunity is one of the things I regret most when it comes to all members of my family who have passed on. Although two of my aunts are still living, it’s difficult to get them to remember and share family stories. I've learned that I can’t be pushy. I have to be patient and wait for a memory to come as they rest in their revery.

Just recently, my Aunt Madge, in a flash of clarity, confided that my father had, as a seven-year-old boy, stood by himself at the window of his bedroom and watched as the wagon from the livery stable his father owned carried his mother’s body away.

That tiny glimpse into my father’s sad childhood just about broke my heart.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Daddy’s in the Trunk of the Car ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

In the 1950’s, before the safety of children was guarded by laws and all manner of protective equipment, we Rhodes kids enjoyed life on the edge. If we weren’t roller skating in a partially floored attic or walking on stilts down public roadways, we were cooking potatoes on a stick over a fire built in a metal drum. Amazingly we survived to adulthood along with some very good memories. One of my favorites has to do with Daddy.

We lived at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just a few miles from adventure. Daddy took us up the mountain to pick apples, strawberries or nectarines depending on the season. During the summer we would drive to Earl’s Ford to play in the cool mountain water of the Chattooga. Much to our delight we were allowed to ride in the trunk of the car. The three of us would pile in and an old broom handle was given to me, the eldest, to prop open the trunk lid. We would take off, enjoying the trip in our family’s makeshift version of a pickup truck. Going up and down hills, over bumps and around the curves of mountain roads was tantamount to the modern kid’s amusement park.

Fifty years later Daddy made his final trip up the mountain. After his cremation I told Mama I’d pick up his ashes from the funeral home. She was weary and grief-stricken. I did not dare question her decision to have Daddy’s ashes buried in the Rhodes family plot next to his parents, brothers and infant granddaughter. I also did not request permission for what followed. Equipped with 4 Ziploc bags I carefully put a scoop of Daddy’s remains into each bag and left the rest in the box for burial. After the funeral and graveside service we put Mama in bed for a nap and quietly changed into what our parents used to call our play clothes. We traveled with our families up the mountain to Earl’s Ford and returned a part of Daddy to the Chattooga River, a place he loved enough to share with his four children.

I couldn’t empty my bag completely. I needed to save a little of Daddy. I added some polished small stones from the river’s edge into the bag and wrapped it all in a Wal Mart sack. For the next year I kept that Wal Mart bag in the corner of the trunk of my Civic. Some might question the lack of dignity. For my Daddy, I felt it was only fitting.

May 15, 2011: In memory and honor of Daddy on what would be his 94th year.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Peonies Keep Blooming ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

Circa autumn, 1862: Whetstone Community, Mountain Rest, SC.; a stone’s throw from the beautiful Chattooga River. Malinda Robins Crisp knelt in her garden and prepared the earth for planting. Against the backdrop of civil war that ripped through the land spilling blood onto our sad soil, my great grandmother was planting peonies. Each spring the delicate pink flowers unfurled their soft, perfumed petals outside the home she shared with her husband Allison.

Two little girls, Fannie and Annie, were born, grew, played and learned the domestic arts from Malinda. Each May the cool mornings and warm sunshine coaxed the buds into magnificent pink blooms. In 1893 Malinda’s worried hands cooled four-year-old Annie’s brow as she struggled with the fever of meningitis that would forever close her ears. Three years later Malinda and Allison wiped away tears as they left their youngest at Cedar Springs School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg. Upon her graduation Annie returned to the upstate. She had met George Elliott Rhodes at Cedar Springs and when she was 23 they married. Elliott and Annie moved down the mountain to the little hamlet of Walhalla.

Malinda sent peony cuttings with Annie (my Nonnie) who planted them in her garden. Those flowers grew and multiplied and graced the garden and the family table for years. I still have the note from my 5th grade teacher, thanking me and Nonnie for the beautiful peonies I brought her. I can still see Nonnie’s hands wrapping the peony stems in wet newspaper so they would survive my walk to school and I remember the pride I felt when I gave them to Mrs. Stoudemire.

After Nonnie’s death, my mother Martha and my father Harry moved into the home. Martha loved a pretty yard so she tended the peonies. For years she divided and transplanted them and when age began to take its toll she worried what would become of the peonies. She wanted us to take some for our own yards but I lived in Savannah and the coastal climate doesn’t do for the peony. Soon as I moved to Atlanta I began to plan on some family peonies in my yard. Mama had died but sister Becky helped me divide them and brother Rob helped me plant them in my back yard and every year they bloom.

I’m sitting on my screen porch as I write this and those delicate, resilient blooms are bringing me great joy. Their pink beauty conjures up memories of loving women who opened a nurturing space in their hearts for me. This year I celebrate with my Katie her first Mother’s Day. I am filled with awe and smiles as I watch her tenderly love little Rhodes. I celebrate my Emily’s path toward a teaching special education. I am confident there is plenty of space in her heart to welcome children in her care as well as children who may come into her future home. I am a lucky woman. Real motherly love is so resilient, so powerful, so portable….like the traveling peonies!

Who were the women who made space in their hearts for you?