Today was my grandmother Ila’s birthday. (Pronounced EYE-LA). I didn’t know her that well as she passed when I was only 8 years old. Ila was my grandmother on my dad’s side. Her father had two families and because he gave his earnings to his other family, my grandmother had to stay home from school to pick cotton to help her family out with money. I remember how my grandmother bitterly recalled how she had no shoes which later accounted for her obsession with them. Years later she worked at a shoe store and had closets full.
Ila was the epitome of a Southern woman. She cooked using an entire stick of butter when cooking a small pot of creamed corn. Even at the age of 5, I could eat an entire plate. I remember her blackberry bush and how she would make the BEST blackberry jam. She could sew anything- she created a beautiful pink lace (pink was her favorite color) Arabian princess Halloween costume that I loved so much I wore it 3 years in a row, until I out grew it. She was intelligent and though her brilliance never was fully utilized she did make sure to at least get her high school equivalency through the mail. Ila made me elaborate birthday cakes every year. She spoiled me as I was her first and only grandchild. She would allow me to have meals that little people should not have, like an entire bowl of cool whip. She would let me watch as much TV as I wanted, even shows like “Three’s Company!” She even gave me half a cup of coffee, in a novelty cup that really was “half a cup” with one side of the mug flat. She taught me to paint at the tender age of 5. My first masterpiece was a watermelon. She would sing with me and teach me little songs, country songs… I remember one said something about a “bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.”
I remember being in elementary school and learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and asking her about him enthusiastically. I thought what an exciting time that must have been in history to have such a magnificent leader. She narrowed her eyes and said nothing. There’s a racism embedded in many Southerners that they don’t even know is there. If she had lived longer, I wonder how she would’ve handled me having black boyfriends? She did love my Puerto Rican mother though, she said mama was so pretty that she’d look good in a “gunny sack.” I still don’t know what a gunny sack is…
Like all the ladies in my life- she didn’t play. She was STRONG. solid. I only wish I could’ve know her longer. After she passed there were no real holiday gatherings. She was the glue that held everyone together. It would’ve been interesting to see how she would’ve influenced me, how I would’ve influenced her? and how she would’ve influenced the whole family. Would my dad still talk to me? Maybe he would be different? He was just a few years older than me when he “lost” her. I sure he must have felt robbed of time.
I’ve heard stories of how protective she was of her 3 sons. How when the neighbors threatened my dad and his brothers, she stood up to them fiercely. I heard she didn’t like to leave the house much, my mother said perhaps because of depression. I heard that she adored me. That she had always wanted a daughter and with three boys she was overjoyed when the first grandbaby was born a girl. 🙂
When we grow up without someone unfortunately, we can only rely on the depictions of the loved one by other family members, their stories, their skewed perceptions, their colored and hazy memories.