Friday, June 23, 2017

Cardinals and Blackberries

When I was around 4 years old, my family moved from Southern Indiana to South Georgia. My father had been working in Georgia for a few months before the move, and had been sending us reel to reel tape recorded messages describing the land down South. We left behind a neighborhood full of kids that were our friends and headed off into the unknown. My brother and I rode in the back of my Mom's Buick station wagon in the area behind the third seat on a set of large foam cushions that had been made to fit the area. This was a day before car seats and mandatory seat belts. While they drove down the interstate, we had our own private play area with huge windows that provided us ample opportunity to pump our arms at every passing semi in hopes they would sound off their air horns. 

Also left behind in the move were two sets of grandparents. Granny Jackson, my mother's mom, was not particularly keen on the idea of her only grand kids being so many miles away. She had lived hours away from us in Loiusville, Kentucky when we were in Indiana, but she had cajoled by Granddad into carrying her to see us on a regular basis. I fondly remember she made the most of every holiday on the calendar. We would awaken on Christmas morning to find them setting in our family room waiting to watch us open presents. She recorded ghost stories complete with sound effects rattling silverware to sound like chains for Halloween. Even at a young age, we knew we would miss her after the long distance move.

We moved into a rental house that I vividly remember to this day. There was not a blade of grass in the yard, just bare dirt and a huge Oak tree in the front yard. The day we moved in, my Dad checked out the washing machine sitting on the back porch and got stung by wasps. I specifically remember you could see the ground beneath the house through the cracks in our bedroom floorboards. In the Winter, we would go out to the hallway where there was a large furnace grate in the floor. We would stand on it until out socks got smoking hot and then run to our beds and crawl down in the covers.

When our house in Indiana sold, we loaded up the station wagon and began looking at houses. A few months we moved into what would be our family's home for my entire kindergarten through college years. Not long after we had moved into the new house, we received a surprise phone call. My Granny Jackson had been cajoling and pestering my Granddad to bring her to Georgia to see her grandkids. He was driving a truck for Meadow Gold Creamery and repeatedly refused her requests on grounds of his work schedule. She did not drive, so she had grown accustomed to utilizing taxis and the like when she needed. Much to our surprise, she got fed up with the waiting and bought herself a ticket on a Trailways bus and rode from Louisville to rural South Georgia. I am quite sure at the time, it did not occur to me what a major feat that was for her as it does now. 

Within a few months, we were given the news that they were moving to Georgia and they built a house diagonally across the street from us. Granny Jackson was a captivating storyteller. Around campfires or at the side of our beds, she crafted stories that held our attention and unlocked our imagination. She loved music and loved to sing with the phonograph in the big console television that sat in their living room. On grand occasion, she would pull out her guitar, and play and sing Pasty Cline songs for me.

Her house was always filled with the smell of home cooking. She made soup beans and ham in an cast iron dutch oven and cornbread in a cast iron skillet. Coffee was made in a percolator on the stove. During the Spring and Summer, she would lead me out to the backyard, and we would pick wild blackberries. She wash them and bake a blackberry cobbler in a cast iron skillet and serve it up with a scoop of ice cream. To this day, I still think it is perhaps one of the greatest desserts known to man. 

When her diabetes reached a point where she could not longer hold down a chord against the frets of her guitar, she gave it to me. I tried to resist accepting, but she would have no part of it. I had taken piano lessons for years up until that point. I promptly quit piano lesson and took up the guitar. 

When I was in high school, they bought a piece of land just outside of town, and my brother and I helped my Granddad build their new house there. There land backed up to woods and the blackberry picking was even better than at the other house. Once I was old enough to drive, many a weekend, I chose to stay at their house. 

While off at college, I got the news Granny had experienced a stroke and had been rushed to a hospital in Tallahassee. I drove home and accompanied our family to visit her in the hospital. I was paralyzed with fear as I watched her roll a Get Well card someone had sent her like a two year old might. I cried huge crocodile tears, stroked her hand, kissed her cheek, and prayed with every fiber of my being that she would recover. And recover she did. Several weeks later, I called her at home. She had some trouble speaking, but I could tell she was just happy to hear my voice. I soon learned that she was leaving the cane the doctor sent her home with lying beside her chair and moving around the house without "any of that foolishness". But the stroke had severely affected her vision to the point she could only show shadows. I continued to call and check in on her and encourage her. A few days later, I received a package through the college mail - a package of homemade brownies she had baked for me with a note that she was worried that I was not eating well with that college cafeteria food. Stunned that a recovering stroke victim that could only see shadows had baked me brownies, I sat in my dorm room and cried grateful tears for a Grandmother that loved me so selflessly. 

Several weeks later, I walked out of a college class that I was certain I was failing and looked up to see the campus pastor from the United Methodist Wesley Foundation. He invited me to lunch which of course I gladly accepted considering my options at the college cafeteria. Over lunch he broke the news to me that Granny Jackson had suffered another stroke and had passed away. The 4 hour drive home was a blur punctuated by a flat tire in the rain. That was 31 years ago.  I remember it vividly as if it were yesterday.

I have always heard that if you see a cardinal (red bird) and coincidentally the state bird of Indiana, that it is a late relative coming by to check on you. While I do not necessarily buy into the whole concept of reincarnation, it is a pleasant thought. Since we moved into our home here in Florida last Summer, there has been a Cardinal that visits our bird feeder in the front yard just outside our picture window. I smile and say, Granny is checking in on us. While that might not really be the case, I do know I carry her around with me. My love of hearing, reading, writing and storytelling are gifts she gave me. Her guitar hangs in a case in my office. Every time I pickup a guitar and play, I think of her. And whenever I find blackberry cobbler on a menu and I order it, I always catch myself thinking, Granny's was better.

2 comments:

RichardM said...

This is a great story. Do you remember many of her stories well enough to put them in a book?

Allen Madding said...

Sadly I remember the general story line of a few, but not enough detail to retell.