Happy birthday, Grandmama! Born in 1903, you were my role model from the very beginning — my beginning in 1949. Maybe it had something to do with your doting love for me. That’s something that can’t be ignored. And something easy to return.
When I decided to major in home economics in college, I thought it was because I loved my high school home economics teacher. But it began with you. You showed me how to love your home by caring for it with the deepest commitment possible. And that started with hard work.
I tried to stay up with you regarding the hard work as I followed you around. I helped you take care of the chickens daily. That was something that had to be done. You couldn’t just say “I don’t feel like doing this today. I think I’ll just rest.” It was a commitment and something you didn’t have to think about. You could have created the famous Nike slogan, “Just do it”!
You taught me how to cook and sew — skills that were vital in those days. The first thing I learned to cook was homemade biscuits. There was no measuring; you knew just how much flour, shortening, and buttermilk to add to that one bowl used to mix biscuits. I remember the flour being in a large bin near the stove. You had to open a little pull-down door and reach into the bin, scooping out however much flour was needed.
My first batch of biscuits did not turn out well. I burned them and hid them behind the wood heater in the dining room. But Granddaddy, who ate homemade biscuits at EVERY meal EVERY day, sniffed them out and ate those burned biscuits. He told me they were “just right”!
Since you sewed most of my clothes, I was eager to learn how to use that old black Singer sewing machine. And of course, you taught me how to sew. My first project was a navy blue gathered skirt with red and white stripes in it. I sewed rick rack, which was a zigzag trim, in three rows around the lower part of the skirt. Needless to say, I had not learned how to sew straight at the time, because the zigzag trim also zigged and zagged!
I helped you in the rose garden. That was your first love. You cared for the roses and a few other types of flowers with such great care and pride. I remember walking through each of the rose beds looking at the beautiful buds. You knew the names of every rose bush, and soon I did too. I loved to impress you with my knowledge of their names!
I think it’s significant that both of your names were those of flowers — Rose Lilley (Lily)! Your love of flowers was shown in your care for them. When they were in bloom, you also made sure they blessed someone else. You created beautiful arrangements to grace the communion table in the church. And if anyone was sick or needed some encouragement, you made sure to take them flowers.
You were known for how you cared for others. Nothing made you happier than to cook for a crowd. I remember well all those annual family reunions. Family members from your side of the family and Granddaddy’s side of the family gathered at our house. You reveled in those times. You cooked for what seemed like days. Of course, a few people brought a dish to add to the mix, but most of the cooking was done by you and Mama. And you did that until most of your family members had died.
Today, small business entrepreneurs are the backbone of the economy. Back then, no one knew that term. But you were an original entrepreneur. You had a thriving egg business. I thought it was so exciting to help you gather the eggs and put them into egg cartons that you bought for your business. Then we packed them carefully in your car and we would deliver them to customers, most of whom lived in town.
It always took longer to deliver eggs than it should, because whenever someone was lonely or just needed to talk, we were invited into their homes and I waited somewhat impatiently while you talked with them. I especially remember visiting Miss Daisy Pope. She lived in an apartment on the second floor above a retail business in town. We had to take an elevator to get to it. It was the first elevator I had ever seen and it was exciting to push the buttons. Miss Daisy was old — even older than you! And she wore high-topped black shoes that laced up above her ankles. Her long dresses came to the top of those unusual shoes. And she was always lonely, so we sat and talked each time we delivered her dozen eggs.
You had your own car, which I now see as unique for the time. I knew of no other woman who had a car. You also had a bank account in your name. And I remember you having a Montgomery Ward credit card, which you always paid off every month. I didn’t realize it at the time, but you were such a role model of strength and character. Happy birthday, Grandmama! I want to be just like you when I grow up.