My grandmother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was confined to her home for thirty
years. Because of this disease, her leg and finger bones were so twisted that there every
movement caused her great pain. She shuffled between her bedroom, parlor, and kitchen with
the aid of a wooden Irish shillelagh and her oversized fur lined slippers. By gazing out
her windows and doorways she was able to feast her eyes and nose on the sights and smells
of the great outdoors.
The fact that grandmother was in constant pain and confined to her home did not dampen her
spirits. She thoroughly enjoyed reading, listening to her favorite radio programs, and the
company of the many relatives and friends who frequently visited her.
Adjacent to her bedroom was the parlor where she received her guest.
Near one of the parlor's outside walls was a large black coal burning stove. It was a
major heat source and the means by which meals were cooked. Grandma抯 high seated parlor chair was next to the stove and near her bedroom
door. When she wanted to sit, she maneuvered herself in front of the chair and flopped
down backwards onto several soft cushions. To stand, she griped the edge of the stove抯
iron shelf with her twisted fingers, and with the muscles of
her deformed arms, pulled herself up.
Next to the stove and opposite grandma抯 chair was a
cot where occasionally I slept.
The rest of the parlor抯 furniture consisted of a
large round oak table with a floor length laced tablecloth, a floor model Crosley radio,
and an ornate glass china closet. A large metal lamp that resembled a flower basket graced
the center of the oak table. The base of the lamp was round and deep, like a kitchen bowl.
Silk geraniums sprouted from a glass vase that was secured in the center of the bowl.
Surrounding the bouquet were four equally spaced electric light bulbs that were attached
to the ends of four lengths of metal tubing. Artificial tin leaves encircled each bulb.
Completing the furniture ensemble were several high-back rocking chairs that were casually
placed around the table.
When grandma抯 nieces, the sisters Mammie, Sophie,
and Maddie (my godmother) visited it was though a high level meeting of the utmost
importance was occurring. When the rocking of the rocking chairs intensified Grandma in a
gentle yet stern voice said, "Fred you have to leave the room now". My mother抯
hand led me to the front porch where I was told to sit and
play. Still I could hear them talking about something or someone with a great deal of
enthusiasm and whispered responses. Much of their conversations were interrupted with the
disapproving shaking of heads and deep sighs. They made tit-tis sounds by rapidly striking
their tongue against the inside of their upper front teeth. While making this sound they
tilted their heads against the backs of the wicker rocking chairs and gazed at the
ceiling. By these animated jesters and noises they conveyed to one another their disdain
of an event or of someone抯 actions. To my knowledge
none of the ladies suffered any chronic neck disorders.
Like his wife Mammie George frequently visited grandmother. He was in his late sixties and
carried his large frame on two bowled legs that caused him to tilt slightly to his right
when he walked.
I was mesmerized by his ritual of rolling his own cigarette. With one hand he would place
the tobacco in the thin cigarette paper, roll and lick the paper, and then strike a wooden
match on his pant leg all in one smooth flowing motion.
George and grandma sat together and chatted for hours. He informed her of the town抯
late breaking news and of further details surrounding the
gossip that her nieces had earlier told her.
During one summer afternoon visit George offered to buy his wife, sisters-in-laws, and
grandma a quart of ice cream. They were all impressed with humble generosity and thanked
him profusely. With a devilish grin and a spring in his walk he hurried to McGuire抯
restaurant on Broadway where Ally, the proprietor, gave him
an empty quart container. George scampered outside and quickly filled half the container
with tiny stones. Roars of laughter filled the restaurant as Ally filled and heaped the
top half of the container with Horton抯 vanilla ice
cream, the ladies favorite.
There was a lot of jubilation, praise and thanks heaped upon George when he arrived back
at grandma抯 house. Bursting with joy Mammie dashed
into the kitchen to dish out bowls of the smooth, cool, sweet refreshment. George abruptly
excused himself. From the hall he stood and listened. Suddenly, the ladies joy quickly
turned to anger when Mammie plunged the serving spoon through the vanilla cream and deep
into George抯 rocky road.
George quickly hobbled away from grandma抯 house
laughing heartily at the success of his devious scheme. For a time the only sounds heard
from grandma抯 parlor were of creaking wicker and
wooden rockers as they rapidly moved back and forth.
Finally, talking intensified anew with George as their subject.