Grandmothers Can Be Human

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Dear readers, I hope you enjoy this story written by my mother, the McAdoo Marvel, about her own mother. Thank you for reading.

It’s true there were some who didn’t care for my mother, either as a grandmother or a person, especially as they got older and became aware of her biases. It’s true that she had favorites among the grandchildren, nieces, and nephews – even her own kids. But she had another side that few of them ever saw – a side that went beyond the socks she once bought for a little boy. She genuinely cared about other people.

She was the first one called when someone needed help. A mother being baptized in a borrowed baptistery and needing care for a little girl. A neighbor having another child and wanting help with an older one. Who was asked first?

Mama sold her wedding ring when my brother, Reid, needed money for Texas Tech University expenses.

In the summer, she made time to call up to the barn loft that “Dr Pepper Cadets” would soon be on the radio. She also called when she knew we were all in the loft, telling us there was what seemed to be a mad (rabies-infected) dog in the yard, and we should stay where we were. If we played in the canyon too long, she left everything to look for us, making sure we were okay. I’m ashamed to admit that I can remember one time we didn’t answer at all when she called. We were afraid she would say it was time to go in, and we weren’t ready to go.

Usually, after the cadets show, we had nothing special to do. We’d gather around, and she’d tell us stories of when she was young, particularly things Uncle Hube did.

She had five girls, and when we were young, she did all the sewing for us, including smocking, tatting, or tucking each dress that needed it. Right down to the underwear – she made it. We won’t mention the slip I made as a Home Economics summer project. When I finished, it was too long. Who wanted to rip out that entire hem, and do it again? I just made the straps about 1½ inches long, the shoulder pieces almost touching, and let it go. When Mrs. Archer came to check it out, I explained it, did the required things, then returned to my rummy game with Reid. I could hear her and Mama laughing, but I didn’t care; that was my Home Ec attitude.

I once had a beautiful, fashionable coat consisting of 85 pieces of an outgrown coat, then dyed purple. And who can forget the special dress? I wore it the first day of second grade. It wasn’t the colors that made it memorable, although it was pretty. It wasn’t a special pattern. It was that left-hand breast pocket. I didn’t point it out to anyone, but I hoped everyone noticed it.

In addition to making weekly trips to the school library when the librarian decided to open it for the summer, Mama kept up subscriptions to McCall’s, Redbook, and Cosmopolitan, so we could keep up with the stories in the back. Redbook and Cosmopolitan had short stories that could be read in a single sitting. But McCall’s had complete novels in serial form, and it was in Cosmopolitan that I found “Penny Serenade.” It’s still a great story.

There were a couple of children’s’ magazines also, one of which had a list of kids wanting pen pals. We all had pen pals, but Louise was the most loyal. When Louise died, at age 28, Mama sent a letter to a pen pal in Montana to explain what had happened

We all once wrote to a family in North Carolina. It was a year of the Great Depression, and they had a lot of girls, as did we. We always had Christmas because of Aunt Grace and Aunt Vesta, but the oldest of those girls wrote to Louise that year that she didn’t think Santa would find them. Mama read the letter, and began to cry.

“Wouldn’t you like to give them some of your old dolls?” she immediately wondered. Of course, we said yes, but hadn’t thought of it at all. So she added doll clothes to her to-do list. I don’t recall how many dolls; there were dresses, hats, coats, underwear for all. She crocheted shoes for each one. We naturally felt that we had done a great deed when they were sent.

Mama didn’t like chocolate, but she used to make huge chocolate pies – just chocolate filling with meringue on top, no crust. They seemed to last forever. Then there were pumpkin pies, stacked five or six deep. She’d make them of Kershaw squash, which we grew because it tasted exactly like pumpkin. Working on one pie, or layer, at a time, we helped ourselves whenever we wanted a piece.

Then there was the delivery charge from Montgomery Ward. We kids had combined our pennies and nickels to buy a fancy sugar bowl for Mama, but we didn’t know about the delivery charge, so paid nothing. Mama had to make a trip to the McAdoo post office and pay the charge before it could be sent on to us. It was years before we found out what happened.

A calendar of what would be showing at the Spur theater every day was sent to us each month. For several months, each time we read one, Louise, Billie, and I announced that we’d rather save our money for Gone with the Wind. When it hit Matador before Spur, Mama said we’d waited long enough. She took the three of us out of school that afternoon. That was unheard of, taking someone out of class to see a movie.

That was as bad as taking us one Sunday afternoon to see Blossoms in the Dust. It was a true story about the Gladney home for unwed mothers in Dallas. Daddy threatened to tell the preacher, who was holding a summer revival for us. He did just that. The preacher responded, saying it was a great movie, and he wished all mothers would take their children to see it. Nothing at all was said about the horrible sin of going to a movie on a Sunday.

Kim once read my diary and thought it sounded like Charlie Brown’s life. To me it was routine, a matter of being one of the younger ones in a family of kids who all sold stuff to the same relatives. It sounded as though I never won. But once, I did win. I was the only family member who wanted to go to the county fair in Lubbock. It was a big deal. School was closed for the day, and those who wanted to go rode the school buses. Since I had no money, I didn’t know how that would happen. Mama called me outside, and told me how much she was going to give me for embroidering some cup towels. I’m sure no one else was paid. But with my money, I actually won a Ferdinand the Bull with flowers stuck on his nose. Smelling the flowers was Ferdinand’s identity. Old chalk Ferdinand spent many days decorating the dresser.

Mama once gave me a nickel to walk with Doris along the highway to a birthday party for the Allen girl. She knew I didn’t like parties, but Doris wanted to go. So she paid me, rather than making me go. It was probably only a couple of miles, but seemed much farther at the time.

The story of shoes and socks involves a little boy who came to church one cloudy, cold winter Sunday. There were four kids in his family. All except the youngest, around three years old, had their feet covered. He was completely barefoot. No one knew them. Everyone felt they were just passing through, and looking for a church to attend. They barely sat down before Mama was up, and she and the little boy were walking out the door.

She went straight to Uncle Rush. He had a grocery store in town, which had been a dry-goods store before he bought it. It still had a lot of the original stock that went with the sale, including shoes and socks.

“I’ll buy the socks,” Mama told him, “if you’ll provide the shoes.” Of course, Uncle Rush went along with her, finding shoes that fit. As soon as I saw them leave, I told myself that God must be very proud of us that day because that’s the way a church is supposed to act. When, as an adult, I told Mama how that had affected me, she told me she had gotten into trouble with the two elders, one of whom was Uncle Charlie. I guess they wanted to have a meeting to discuss it first.

She was good with costumes, too. When Jack and the Beanstalk was chosen for our school operetta (first through fifth grades), my best friend, Baby Lou, and I spoke for the part of the cow before the boys snatched it. Who concocted the costume of burlap bags? My mother, and offered me a quarter if I would “moo” when I shouldn’t. I was too shy, even for a quarter.

Hundreds of women across the country did it -- fed men who stopped and asked for something to eat. Mama was one of them. It might be only fried eggs, but she cooked something. Daddy let them stay in the barn or in the loft, if they needed a place to sleep. When the loft had cottonseed, they had a good bed. Some days, there seemed to be a slew of them, other days, only one or two, maybe none. When I was older, and more curious, I asked who all those men were. I was told they were walking to California to look for work. I’ve often wondered how many survived, and how they fared if they made it.

Mama kept her stubborn streak, of course. She had once let Billie, Doris, Theresa and me go swimming in the caliche pit. That meant walking through the little pasture and across the highway. On the way home, Billie stepped on a broken jar. Because of the angle of the glass, it left a bad cut just below the ankle. We were told we should have come home instead of going swimming in dirty water. No matter what we said, we never convinced Mama the injury occurred after we swam. As an adult, a grown-up, mind you, I tried to tell her we had told the truth about when the cut happened. But what did I have to gain? Her response was, “I know when muddy water has gotten into a cut.”

When she had Alzheimer’s, Mama still thought people occasionally stopped by for handouts. When her coat disappeared, I never knew if she gave it away or if someone took it. I gave her one of mine, which she used only when I was certain we would need it. One of the things that concerned me about Alzheimer’s was the loss of her stubbornness. When she told me, in various situations, “I knew you’d know what to do” or “Whatever you think,” it was worse than if she’d stood up for herself.