I never had grandparents.
Well, of course I had grandparents. Everyone does. Except Adam and Eve. And their children. And Jesus.
I mean I never knew my grandparents. All four of them passed away before I was born. Neal (1946), Josie (1945), Sam (1954), and Kittie (1948) were gone before this granddaughter was born in 1955.
As a child, I don't remember missing the grandparent experience. I have memories of their grass-covered graves and gray-speckled, granite headstones, mowed and cleaned on sunny Saturday afternoons before Decoration Sundays. But I had not yet learned to miss their bear hugs and wet kisses.
As a young adult, I don't remember consciously missing the grandparent experience. I realize now that I consistently formed close friendships with older women. At 20, one of my good friends was 65, or so. She came over and spent many wonderful evenings with me while my husband was at work. Looking back, those types of friendships were the norm. Unknown to me at that time, I was seeking surrogate grandmothers at work, at church, next door, anywhere, everywhere.
Over the past few years, I've been painfully aware of missing the grandparent experience. I especially miss my grandmothers. Maybe it started when I became a grandmother. Suddenly, I was doing things with my grandchildren that I longed to have done with my grandmother. A yearning started in me that has floated in and out like the feathers that would have softened her pillows.
And so, I began think about her, wish I had known her, loved her.
Did she smell like fresh-baked bread? Pacquin's Hand Cream? Roses?
Was her lap soft and her skin hard and cracked? Did she sing like a mockingbird, or did I only think she did? And what would we have done together when I had her all to myself?
Would she have taken me down the hill to the dirt playground at the grammar school, hiking her faded, floral house dress to her knees so that we could see-saw until our legs ached? And our bellies hurt from laughter?
Would I have learned to knit much earlier than the age of 52, creating doilies that we would stiffen with sugar starch into rock-hard furniture adornments? I'd still have a blushing-pink one today, tucked carefully away in the cedar chest. And I'd stop and smile at the faded, intertwined thread whenever I opened the strong-smelling chest to retrieve a sweater or quilt.
I would have helped her in the garden. She would have picked ruby-red tomatoes and lovingly placed them in her mother's apron, holding it out by the bottom two corners, forming a bowl at her waist. Juicy, drippy sandwiches on her freshly-made bread would then be my reward.
I'm certain she would have let me lick the cake mix bowl. As she wiped my chubby cheeks that were smeared with uncooked sugary delight, she would tell me this was our little secret and not to tell my mother.
And when my mother called to say it was time for me to come home, she would say, "Oh, Margaret, let her stay a little longer. Just let her spend the night. I promised I would braid her hair, but we've been so busy that we haven't had time. And her grandfather told her they might walk to the creek and skip stones."
But more than anything, I achingly wonder what I would have called her? My grandmother shouldn't be remembered so casually as "her" or "she" or "Mother's mother" or "Daddy's mother."
I remember that endearments of the 50s typically included "Granny," "Mamaw," and "Memaw." But for some unknown reason, those don't feel right for my grandmother.
"Mama Kittie?" Not unless I wanted the family's gestating, calico cat to come running to my side!
"Granmom?" Hummmm...I like that. I think that might be it! How I would have specified whether I was referring to Kittie or Josie isn't important. I know now that I would have called my grandmother "Granmom."
And if I close my eyes and listen in the quiet, still afternoon, I can hear Granmom sweetly, oh so lovingly, calling to me, "Where is my Princess Rebecca? Come here, dear child, and we shall have a tea party."