In 1963 my dad unexpectedly passed away just as I celebrated six months of being on earth. Things were very different back then. Even though mom had a college education and made her own money, she could not get credit or continue to pay on the car she had unless my granddad co-signed with her. You know, because he was a man.
While at the funeral, my granddad had his off-duty deputies pack up my mother and me and move us back home with him and my nana. Isn’t that odd? Even I, no spring chicken, cannot imagine someone just moving me without my knowledge or consent and me accepting it without argument. Life was very different half a century ago, wasn’t it? I only have one or two pictures of my dad holding me. I’m told, as he stood in the hospital hallway peering into the baby nursery looking at his new daughter he said aloud that he would never live to see me grow up. I guess sometimes you just know.
The funeral, I’m told was loud and argumentative with two women – the much older ex-wife and my mom, the MUCH younger current wife both trying to play the widow’s role. His 18-year-old daughter from his first marriage crying in confusion and me – oblivious to it all. This is the only picture I can find of the three of us together.
I think my mom was pretty devastated because when I think of comfort and home, I think of my Nana and not my mom. In some strange way, I remember my Nana holding me and taking care of me.
I remember mother (yep, that’s what I call her) being there and playing with me but keeping her distance.
We lived with them for a few years and then one day my aunt and uncle came to take us to church. We stopped and picked someone else on the way. He was very tall and he strode out to the car like I had seen John Wayne in those movies we watched. He sat in the front seat of the car with me standing between him and my uncle (yep, I used to stand in the front seat and no one wore a seat belt back then). He told me jokes while his mirthful blue eyes danced in the Sunday morning sun. His name was Jack and we all three got married about six months later. Apparently, children do not go on honeymoons because once again I was at Nana and Jim-Pa’s while mom and dad went to Arkansas for a whole week!
They returned and mom seemed happy, something I don’t remember seeing much. I vaguely remember being told I was going to have a brother or sister soon. Everyone seemed very excited. I guess it was okay – as long as I didn’t have to share a room with them. It was summer time when mom had to go stay in the hospital all the time. I stayed with Nana and Jim-pa again while dad worked and then made the two hour trip to Oklahoma City to visit mom. I got to go sometimes and when I did, dad and I had great talks about things. I wasn’t sure why mom was in the hospital but she was. Back then, hospitals were basically closed on Sundays and so were blood banks. We were in the waiting room waiting on something and then mom’s doctor came into the room – this physician was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame a few years ago for his work in genetics etc… – my dad jumped up and yelled at him, then leaning in very close he said if my mother died he would mop the floor up with him. Mother died?!?!? What?!?!? Eventually we all came home and things were quiet in the house again. There was no baby but that didn’t really concern me.
Later, it was my Nana who told me that my Jim-Pa, mother and all her brothers and sisters had the rarest of the rare blood type, but I had the most common and so did the little sister I was supposed to have had. This famous Dr. from Baptist Hospital in Oklahoma City was doing a trial with Pfizer Laboratories and asked my mom to be in the trial. Mom got the placebo, the baby was dying, abortion was illegal and so they had to “wait”. They waited for more than a week and then on Sunday morning came time for mom to deliver a baby that was dead. She began hemorrhaging and there was no AB- blood. She nearly bled out until the doctor laid down on the gurney next to her and gave her some of his blood, either AB- or O-. I don’t think mom ever recovered.
All that time spent with my Nana was very good for me. She was able to give me a first-hand view of so many things. I learned about gardening – weeding is something I really hate but eating warm strawberries with just a little dirt on them is one of the joys in life. I learned that canning summer’s bounty is like a pretty science project swirling around in the pot as it becomes jam. I learned the importance of taking naps on the front porch swing and what a treat it is to picnic on Jeno’s pizza and Country Time Lemonade for supper in the backyard.
I learned that walking to town with a parasol and a hanky stuffed up your sleeve leads to many discoveries of natural beauty on the way. She taught me that driving a car was something that should be left to someone besides her! She regaled me with stories of her childhood and even told me about her elation when she and all the other women in the U.S. gained the right to vote. She made me promise I would vote every single time I was allowed the privilege, to ensure women would never lose the vote – the last time she voted she was 96-years-old and I took her in a rainstorm that brought Noah floating by. She schooled me in the finer points of being a young lady and although I faltered on occasion, I have not forgotten that “pretty is as pretty does”.
I learned about the wild violets in her front yard – the ones that I dig up and replant in every place I have ever lived. I know all the words to all the verses of “Amazing Grace” and “The Old Rugged Cross.” I learned that poor doesn’t necessarily mean dirty, it just means someone has come upon hard times like I will sometimes. I learned that everyone just wants to be loved and if that love doesn’t reckon with the Bible but both people are willing adults, then it is not our place to judge lest we be judged.
I learned how to reupholster a chair like a pro and that spray paint makes everything look bright and gleaming. I learned to “make do” with what I had even if it wasn’t what I wanted. I learned that a Southern Baptist can dance pretty darn well! I learned why everyone called her Dan instead of Emma, her given name. I learned that an argument long forgotten returns when your daughter finally needs her birth certificate and finds out all these years her legal name has been Baby Girl because mom and dad could not agree on a name. REALLY funny to everyone except Baby Girl, I mean mother.
I learned that even at an advanced age you could learn to enjoy new things like Dr. Pepper and Long John Silver’s so I should never quit learning or discovering. I learned of all her 18 grandchildren, my cousin Jimmie and I were her favorites. I learned that, like a magician, Nana would just happen to find a $20 bill tucked away in her purse if we came upon a special treat we both wanted.
I learned that your mom could still love you very much but be unable to show or tell you because sometimes there are hurts so big you can never get around them and the best thing you can do is love them back anyway. Why? Because we all just want to be loved, of course.
She kept right on loving teaching me until the day she died and I wanted to pass those things on to others, so I blog. I have enjoyed being the Oklahoma Woman Blogger of the month for August 2013, and I hope you will remember two things: You never know what someone went through so that you may take a pill, a shot or have a healthy baby. And, if you or maybe your children don’t have a Nana in their lives, find them one; and if someone else needs one – be it!
Kelli Davidson blogs at Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts and is our Blogger of the Month for August.