Her given name was Linnie, but, we called her "Granny." She was really everybody's Granny. She was not my grandmother by birth, but, through marriage. Still, I claimed her as mine.
I don't exactly how far Granny went in school. In those days in their rural North Carolina community, education was not the important necessity. Granny married in 1929, when she was just 15 years old. She had three children of her own, but, she also raised one of her grandchildren and cared for her father in law until he died. Her husband was a deputy sheriff and farmer. He died in 1967 when he was just 58 years old, suddenly. At the time, she was just 53...not very old, but, she never remarried and remained extremely devoted to her family. She looked after grandkids and great-grandkids, cooked and earned her rightful place as the family matriarch.
Granny not only worked in the fields, but, she had to cook for everybody. And cook she did. I never was much on country ham until I had Granny's country ham and biscuits. She could make the best cakes and her Chicken 'n Dumplings were the stuff legends are made of.
One time we were visiting, I told her I wanted her to tell me how to make biscuits and Chicken 'n Dumplings. She was more than happy to share how she did it, but, it took probably an hour for her to tell me how. She didn't use a recipe. She just did it. I wish I could say that I have worked and perfected the Boone Biscuits, but, I haven't. I wrote down the instructions and one of these days, I'm going to get them down to an art and make sure my daughter knows how.
I always loved to stay at her little house when we'd visit Caswell County. I don't know what it was about her that drew me to her. Maybe it was the fact that I didn't have grandmothers anymore. I loved to sit and talk with her in her kitchen and we shared many an interesting conversation. We covered just about everything from food to child rearing to how they handled birth control in the 30's. ("Oh, we had our ways" she said.) I loved to hear her tell stories of her childhood and what life was like in rural North Carolina when she was raising her children. She was just a joy to be around. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. She was very motherly, always concerned about each of the Grands and Great- grandchildren, always interested in them as long as her memory allowed her to be.
The first time I ever went to her house was in the summer of 1990. It was hot and we went next door to her grandaughter's house one night. She grabbed a big stick before we left, incase we ran into any snakes on the way. She apparently was pretty good at killing snakes, when needed, and had done so many times. There I was, this suburban 21 year old, scared to make the walk and making really careful, calculated steps as we made our way next door. I'm sure Granny was thinking I was the biggest wimp. She wasn't scared. A potential run in with a venomous snake was no big deal. Just get you a stick and take care of it.
I think that's basically the principle on which Granny lived her life. She had lived through many hard times in her life. Even so, Granny was not a whiner. Life in rural North Carolina in the 30's and 40's was not easy. As my mother in law has said, she didn't see women wear anything but potato sacks as dresses until World War II when they were forced to go to work while the men were at war.
Granny never lived more than a mile from where she was born and raised until 1999, when she moved, by her own choosing, into the Masonic & Eastern Star Home in Greensboro. At that point, she could still care for herself, yet, she knew the day would come when she would no longer be able to do so. The fact she made that decision herself was such a blessing for her family. Granny was independent. I'm so grateful that in her making that decision, none of the family was ever faced with that painful intervention of having to tell her when it was time. She did it on her own terms.
My in laws are preparing to leave for Caswell County, NC this morning, to go and bury Granny this Saturday. My kids and I are tore up because it's not possible for us to make the trip. Mr. Smiff told our daughter "It's not like it's going to be a fun trip." No. Anytime you have to bury somebody, it's not fun. What makes our hearts hurt is the feeling of not being able to take part in her final tribute....to be there with the rest of the family, remembering, sharing laughter and tears in remembering this wonderful woman. I understand how my daughter feels. I was never able to make the trips when my own grandparents died. You feel disconnected at a time when you want and need to be connected. I know Granny would understand why I can't be there. Even so, it still hurts I can't be.
I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to have Granny in my life. I'm grateful my children have a clear memory of a Great-Grandparent.
Proverbs 31 says of a virtuous woman that her "children rise up and call her 'blessed'". So do her grandchildren-in-law.
Take a whiff of Sista Smiff and you'll come back for more, that's fo sho!
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