Around four years ago I began writing occasional “Granny B” posts on my social media page. I wrote them mainly because the things she would say to me daily were sweet and often funny. Unexpectedly, the responses from friends and family were overwhelmingly positive. Folks frequently comment on the posts and ask about Granny B, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce her to you.
Granny B is my mother. Her given name is Bonda – a name that is equally unique as she is. My mother was the sixth of seven children – four older brothers, one older sister, and one younger brother – and at age eighty-five, is the only surviving sibling. She grew up on a farm in rural Cabarrus County in North Carolina. My grandfather farmed and worked in the mill. My grandmother was a homemaker -a great one! They were a close and loving family with a strong work ethic, high integrity, and deep faith. There are many stories of all their adventures growing up together.
My mother completed high school, started business school, and somewhere during that time, met my father. They married when she was twenty and he, nineteen. Eager to start a family, they built a house across the street from my father’s parents. Soon they would discover that a diagnosis of endometriosis would redirect their plans. She and my Daddy were married nearly eleven years when they adopted me at six weeks old. I have heard countless stories, seen many photographs, and watched the old black and white movie of the day they joyously brought me home.
When I was young, my mother worked as a secretary at an elementary school. Though she and I were at two different schools, she somehow managed to know everything that happened at mine. There never seemed to be a way to sneak anything past her – homework projects, a note I had been given for talking too much in class, a crush I had. I determined she must be psychic. Mama later left the school system and finished out her years until retirement working for the Clerk of Court in a nearby county.
My mother has played a vital role in my life for as long as I can remember. Whether it was playing dolls with me as a child, instilling the skills I needed to shop victoriously, or teaching me how to wear makeup, she was up for the task. When it came to listening to my problems, assisting with schoolwork, helping complete college applications, shop for my wedding dress, or holding my hand in the delivery room, she was front and center. Somehow, she even found the strength to help guide me through the motions of saying good-bye to my Daddy much sooner than I ever expected. She was far from perfect, but she loved me with her entire being. I never doubted for one second that she was always on my side.
My mother, to my knowledge, has never met a stranger. As a child, I used to think she knew every single person, everywhere we went. It was fascinating how she could remember the names of each child that had come through her school during the years. She was skilled at needlework, baking cakes, and growing plants of all kinds. If you set your glass down or threw your towel on the floor, it was likely going to get washed before you could blink twice. Mama was all about having a clean house. My bedroom caused her much distress. Mama had a strong faith and believed fervently in the power of prayer. She had spunk, sass, and a quick temper. She was strict and no-nonsense. Her life mission was to keep me protected from danger, adolescent boys, and unwise choices. If she said my curfew was at 11:00 pm, I knew that meant I needed to walk through the door at 10:55. She trusted me unless I gave her a reason not to, which I didn’t. If a neighbor or church member passed away, Mama was already in the kitchen making casseroles. It was never an imposition to sit with a sick family member or friend. In the event of an emergency or crisis, Mama always seemed to know exactly what to do. She was quick to take my phone calls and came to assist every time I needed her.
My husband and I produced the first grandchild for both of our families. Shortly before my due date, we informed our parents that it was time to start considering their new titles. As everyone began to think about their new grandparent names, my mother boldly announced that she was fine with whatever the baby called her, “….. as long as it wasn’t, Granny.” She went on to explain that all she could think of was, “…Granny Clampett sitting on the back of that old jalopy,” from the tv show, The Beverly Hillbillies. After the baby was born, our nurse left to bring the eager grandparents in to see us. Much to her surprise, all four of them had been standing with their ears to the door and fell into the room as she opened it. My mother walked straight over to my bed, took our daughter from my arms, and said, “Hello, little darling – come see your Granny!” My husband and I were a little confused at first, but all we could do was smile. In the wee hours of the morning in that small hospital waiting room, my mother was transformed into her new role with delight and purpose. From that day on, she would proudly be known as, Granny.
Fast forward twenty-one years later to the fall of 2015. After a series of events, my mother was formally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Dementia. Though the news was devastating to receive, it was not a complete surprise. As many families have experienced, we were faced with the difficult task of trying to explain what was happening to her, and that it would be necessary to leave her home of nearly fifty years. It was decided to bring Mama closer so that my family and I could help care for her. Before this dreaded diagnosis took over, she enjoyed reality tv, teaching her Sunday School class, volunteering at the hospital, and eating out. She loved tomatoes from the garden, working in her flowers, bright-colored clothing, flashy jewelry, reading biographies about celebrities, and the beach. But more than anything, she loved her grandchildren. She was the proverbial “Grandma with Photos”. To her, they were the smartest, most beautiful, talented, photogenic babies ever. She attended every possible sporting event, dance recital, theatrical production, school program, and holiday dinner. And when she showed up, you could be certain there would be candy, presents, and other surprises. Granny B made no apologies for her extravagance in spoiling grandchildren. It was her “..duty and privilege.” Not too long from now she may forget, but the one thing I hope my children remember deep in their hearts is that she loved them without reserve and how proud they made her. My mother was complicated, yet real. Both confident and insecure, private, but friendly. Mostly, she epitomized love – and still does.
There have been many difficult legs of this journey – ones I would not have been able to make but for the love and support of my husband and children. Life often comes full circle, and I am blessed to be able to care for her as she did for me. Most days she is happy, compliant, and recognizes me when I walk through the door. She is always thrilled to see her beloved son-in-law. I accepted long ago that he is the favorite one, not me. Some days I arrive to find that she has been “counting the payroll”, “tending to sick children”, “working in the garden”, or “sitting at the Estee Lauder counter at Belk”. Some days we just sit quietly. Don’t be fooled, that spunky spirit is still present! She likes things done her way, and her level of patience is normally close to depleted. Sparkly jewelry, tomato sandwiches, and having her hair done and nails painted remain favorite treats. She still beams with pride when her “babies” come into the room to visit and almost always remembers to tell me she loves me. Though the days are becoming a little quieter, Granny B still has plenty to say about many topics. As long as she is willing to share her humor and inspiration, I will enjoy writing about it.
A friend comforted me with a couple of reminders as I began to walk this path with my mother – she encouraged me not to take anything personally and to meet her wherever she is that day in her memory. Some days that’s easier to do than others. Later, I found a quote that spoke to me “….what the mind may forget, the heart still remembers.” The truth of that statement is played out daily before my eyes. It’s baffling the simple tasks she has forgotten how to do, and amazing the details and memories that have remained. There are still stories and events locked away in her mind, and I find myself wishing for the key to be able to go back in one last time. I’ve thought of so many questions I wish I had asked, photos that should have been documented, and stories to tell once more. My chance to do that has likely passed, but I can encourage others to make wise use of the remaining days with the older ones they hold dear. Don’t let the doors close to all the memories – ask the questions, look at the photos again, write down the names, and listen as they retell the stories. I hope you will cherish those who have shared their lives, wisdom, and love with you through the years. May we be willing to hear what their hearts remember.
“I love you the most. That’s what Mamas do, you know? They love you the most.” – Granny B