Before I dive into this week’s column, let me preface by saying that I’m very fortunate. Actually, let me rephrase that, I’m incredibly blessed. I can probably count on my hands how many friends that I have around my age that still have grandparents alive. Unfortunately, I’m getting closer to no longer being on that list. After a long week of struggling, we laid my maternal grandmother to rest this weekend. And given the fact that she enjoyed reading my weekly blathering, I figured I’d pay homage to her this week.
The highs from last weekend’s wildlife extravaganza were curbed by the unsettling news late Saturday night that my grandmother had been rushed to the hospital. Of course, the family had trouble keeping me in the loop because I was doing what I do best…disappearing into the woods. Thankfully, nobody has come forward yet to tell me how selfish it was to be out hammering catfish while their worlds were turned upside down. Then again, Grandma wouldn’t have approved of them scolding her oldest grandchild. It’s partly her fault that I am the way I am anyway.
She was a feisty little old lady. Standing barely five feet tall, she had the personality of someone over seven feet. She was full of life, quick to crack a joke at your expense. She never had a problem telling you the truth, neither. At least the truth as she saw it. You’d think that someone that would “tell it like it is” would rub folks the wrong way. Apparently not. I don’t think that I’ve ever attended a funeral of someone her age where there were so many people. And I don’t know what her phone bill each month was, but I felt like each person there talked to her on the phone every day. They all had the same story.
And since I mentioned that I am the way I am partly due to her, here’s why. Her son, and her brother, are mostly responsible for my love of the outdoors. From handgrabbing catfish to deer hunting, they are the ones that introduced most of it to me when I was little. I have fond memories of spending the holidays at her house and being picked up in the mornings by her brother, Elvin, to go run dogs. She’d already be awake and through half a pot of coffee before I ever got out of the bed. I’d wake up to the sound of the radio in the kitchen and the smell of breakfast cooking. We’d eat a quick bite and I’d head out to the deer camp.
And speaking of eating, I always thought it was strange that a woman that raised a bunch of hunters never ate deer meat. But she didn’t. I never once remember eating deer meat at her house. My favorite meal, and one she’d make almost every time I came home, was about as simple as it gets. She’d make a pan of cornbread, boil some purple hull peas, and cover the cornbread with her tomato gravy. If she knew ahead of time that I was coming, she’d make sure she had the fixin’s for it. Lunch during deer season usually consisted of my second favorite “grandma meal”, a hamburger. I’m not sure what she did to them, but I still haven’t had another one as good as hers.
Now, I’ve got to level with you guys, I thought the funeral would be a writer’s dream come true. We’ve got some absolute characters in our family. You know the kind of people that you hear comedians tell stories about? Yep, we’ve got ‘em. And Lord do I love them. They are good ol’ country folks, but not the kind of people that you’d attend the opera with. You probably should, they’d make the opera a thousand times more fun, but they ain’t exactly the tuxedo type. I thought having all of these people together at one time, in one place, would provide me with enough content for a book. And I was right. I was just wrong about what kind of book.
Funerals are among the best places to “people watch”. But as I watched the continuous line come through the door at little ol’ Liberty Baptist Church in Center Ridge, Mississippi it hit me. As much as I like to pick on Smith County, there are some of the finest people in the world there. I was amazed at the amount of people that came to pay their final respects to this ninety-pound woman. I’ve been to plenty of funerals where I could get within a few words of exactly what the pastor would say. In this funeral it was evident that she had a real relationship with her church family. Heck, it took two pastors to deliver the address to the audience. My heart swelled with pride to know the impact she had on the people around her.
As I drove away from that tiny community, I held back tears knowing that no trip to Smith County will ever feel the same. She was an irreplaceable rock that I didn’t realize how much I needed until now. I will miss calling her to tell her about a deer I killed, or a game we won. I’ll miss her looking into my eyes when I walk through the door. I’ll miss watching her bounce my children on her knee. I’ll miss her calling me, just to say hello. No matter where I go from here, or what I do, I hope I can make that little old lady from Smith County proud.
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