Grandmama Mitchell did not play.
She gave birth to eight children. Seven of them grew to be adults; she buried her oldest daughter when little Annie was just eight years old. A couple of decades after that funeral, her husband, my grandfather, died in an automobile accident that very literally shook their town. She sent a son or two off to Vietnam; buried a daughter-in-law who left two of her young grandchildren motherless; and watched her children suffer divorce, abuse, and countless other wrongs.
So, no. Grandmama didn’t play, at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, she made lovely garments for our baby dolls, upcycling worn-out grown-up clothes into tiny shirts, skirts, and pants. She birthed other homespun lovies like sock monkeys and teddy bears too, pedaling away as her fingers guided fabric under the steady needle. Upon finishing, Grandmama would hand over her creations with a matter-of-fact, “Thought you might like somethin’ like this,” utterly dismissive of her craftmanship and attention to detail. She had things to do. Couldn’t stand around accepting praise or for goodness sakes. Grandmama, by anyone’s measure, was not one to suffer foolishness.
Grandmama had . . . well, let’s see . . . at least 21 grandchildren, and I have no idea how many great-grands. Most of her kids and their families lived within Georgia’s state lines. But not us. Daddy, Grandmama’s middle boy, wound up staying in North Carolina after completing his seminary degree. (He and Mother married after her college graduation and before Daddy started grad school.) So, to the Mitchells, my brother, sister, and I were the cousins-from-far-away.
Every summer, we piled into our station wagon du jour, and drove the long, hot hours to visit Grandmama. She lived in an old farm-like house that made no pretenses. Springs had long since been sprung—in the screen doors and in the mattresses. Flies buzzed in unafraid of Grandmama’s lethal swat; mice, unaware of the loaded traps waiting for them, just came right on in. Box fans propped in the windows dispelled any hope visitors might have of really cooling off. (During South Georgia summers, a fan just doesn’t do the job—no matter how hard it tries.)
The front porch, though, offered a choice of seats—plenty of rockers to go around. Grandmama’s doors were always unlocked, and she could always squeeze one more around the table. So, it was to that hot, old, creaky house that my family rushed with annual urgency. Because it was Grandmama’s house, that’s why, and it was the most wonderful place in the world.
Grandmama welcomed us with hot baked peach cobbler, homemade biscuits, and a watermelon fresh from the garden. She would have been shelling peas before we arrived—her efforts bubbled on the stove in anticipation of a family supper. Everybody knew we were on the way; Grandmama was expecting all the kids in time for the blessing.
It always baffled me. How could my no-nonsense Grandmama make such a big deal out of us when she had so many other grandchildren to love? I mean, the three of us together made up only a little over ten percent of the total. Yet she always worked so hard to make things special just for us. Amazing.
Grandmama seemed to enjoy our visits so much:
I remember her laughing at the stories told round the table.
I remember her—a bright twinkle in her eyes—fussing at the men who would always be her boys.
I remember her, hands in the front pockets on her house dress, coming in before we went to sleep that first night and asking my mother if we had everything we needed: “There’s plenty of clean towels and bath cloths there for y’all.”
A week later, when our last day popped up out of nowhere, I remember Grandmama fretting over us as we prepared to go. It seemed she didn’t want the week to be over any more than we did.
Back in the station wagon, we’d wave good-bye to Grandmama who stood outside the back door, watching us go. She’d wave for a minute, then fold her arms at her chest, then wave again. The tears she had kept in submission throughout the day, always got the better of her before we were out of the driveway. I don’t know when she went back inside after she’d seen us off. As far as I know, she stood right there until we got back the next year.
No, Grandmama Mitchell didn’t play. But Grandmama Mitchell loved. She loved well.