While writing a short post on Facebook today, I found myself deep in memories of my maternal grandmother. I know I have written about her before (but maybe you won't remember it.) In the photo at left, my grandmother is front row, middle, and Bucky is back row, left. Tillie is on the front row, right and I do not know the others. Mammaw looks stern in this photo, but she always had a smile on her face and a ready laugh.
She ran a boarding house on Dunbar Street in Charleston, WV for young, single working women during the 30's and 40's. As a divorcee in the 1920's, charged with making her own way while raising five children, life wasn't easy. She knew all about cooking, cleaning, making beds and keeping house, so she started a rooming house. She had strict rules; ladies could not entertain gentlemen in their rooms, and had to confine their visits to the parlor (with my grandmother looking in from time to time to make sure nothing untoward was happening.) It was a large room with flowered wallpaper, flowered couches, flowered chairs and a flowered rug.
Some of my fondest memories are of her standing at her stove, stirring a pot of something that smelled so good my mouth would water, while singing a hymn at the top of her lungs. Her specialty was chicken and dumplings, but beef stew and fried chicken ran close behind as everyone's favorites. She always cooked enough for twenty; having been a farm wife, she had to cook for the whole family and all the farm hands. At every meal there were two meats, four or five vegetables, hot biscuits and rolls and apple pie or spice cake for dessert. Those varied, of course, but they were my choices.
She often sang "I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses....." and other hymns. She wasn't a good singer, but she was loud and she always put her own twist to the song, changing its tempo or tune. The ice box gave way to a new refrigerator when I was about five and I remember her excitement at having the new appliance. I recall it had a big round contraption on top (either a motor or fan, I don't know.) I loved sitting on her porch swing. On a string trellis growing up the side of the porch there were morning glories of such a piercing blue they took your breath away to see them. Hollyhocks lined the side of the house and the driveway, and they have always reminded me of my grandmother. I love seeing them, but that doesn't happen much lately, as they seem to have fallen out of favor with gardeners.
Sometime before I was born in 1940 to her youngest daughter, Mammaw married a Charleston judge whom we called Bucky. As a very young child I was confused about who he was. I knew he was married to my grandmother, but he was not my grandfather. Eventually I learned who my real grandfather was (a farmer and school teacher/principal) in Wyoming Co. WV. But the reason for their divorce was not told to me until after she passed away in 1971. That's a whole 'nother story, as they say...
Bucky's mother (or sister, I'm not sure now), Lizbeth Rand Burlew lived on Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston, the wide street paralleling the river. The house on Dunbar Street was behind it, around the corner. They had a large garden of both foods and flowers and I was always allowed to visit it and pick violets and tulips in the spring. I loved walking through the flower stalks, many of which were much taller than I at the time. I'm sure my love of flowers stems from that time. Bucky's family owned the Burlew Opera House which was long a staple of entertainment in that area. I inherited Lizzie's silver hand mirror, adorned with her initials, LRB. It was one thing of my grandmothers that I had always coveted, along with some antiques, which I now proudly own.
The young women who roomed at my grandmother's house were special friends of mine. I was born nearby and most of those girls knew me from birth until they married and left Mammaw's home to start their own married lives. We remained friends with a few of them, however, and visited each other until I was out of college and moved away. One funny story about Tillie: she was nearly 40 (maybe older) and didn't date much. I considered her my best friend. She was only 4'10" tall and wore size 4 shoes. When I was 8-9, I could fit into her clothing and shoes very well, and I loved to play dress up in her closet. She allowed that to happen whenever I was visiting, and once, when she was entertaining her beau (as she called him) I went down to the parlor dressed in her skirt, her heels and her bra (with no top) and proceeded to prance around the room singing "I dreamt I went dancing in my Maidenform Bra...." which was a popular radio and magazine commercial of the day. Poor Tillie was mortified, my grandmother was hopping mad and Alfred, the beau, was bemused and could hardly hold his laughter. They later married and I was so jealous; knowing I wouldn't get to see Tillie as often after she married and moved away to Belle, which wasn't far but seemed so to me.
Mammaw lived until 1971, dying shortly after her 92nd birthday. She suffered a stroke nine months earlier. I went to visit her and she said my name - the first word she had spoken since the stroke six months before.
In college I wrote an essay about her titled "The Most Interesting Person I Know" and after all these years, she remains that for me.