I wrote this and read it at my grandmother's funeral earlier this
year . . .
When I think of Nannie, I picture her in the kitchen, of course, her apron tied around her waist. Even if it wasn't a mealtime, she would still be cooking. Fried chicken, roast beef, stuffed baked potatoes with cheese, turkey, dressing, gravy (which could be put on just about anything on your plate!), fried okra, corn on the cob (unless you had a loose tooth--then she'd cut it off the cob for you), butter beans, black-eyed peas, and the best rolls you've ever tasted! (Before there was Sister Shubert, there was Helen Bevell.) While all of this food was amazing, it was still consumed as somewhat of a formality in order to get to the really good stuff: dessert! She made the best chocolate and lemon pies, chocolate chip cookies (which were always kept in the same round tin), chocolate oatmeal cookies, and yellow cupcakes with chocolate icing. My best memories are when Bapba was still around to make his amazing homemade vanilla ice cream to go along with Nannie's baked goods. This treat was made very much by the sweat of his brow, since he had to crank the ice cream by hand. It was truly a labor of love and one that was greatly appreciated as we consumed the ice cream much faster than it had been made. After Bapba died, though, Nannie still made sure there was Angel Food ice cream in the freezer and cans of Coke in the refrigerator. And if all of that wasn't enough, you could just about guarantee she had some Hershey bars stashed somewhere!
Nannie certainly must have spent a greater portion of her life in the kitchen. That's where she served others, and she was good at it. She couldn't stand to think that someone might be hungry, and she was nearly offended if you didn't go back for seconds. Thirst was also never an issue in her house, since she'd have your glass refilled with her wonderful sweet tea before you even realized you were low. There is definitely the lingering question in our minds about whether or not Nannie actually got to enjoy her own cooking, since she was always so busy refilling, asking who was ready for more on their plate, and passing out the next batch of hot rolls straight from the oven.
During the summer of 1996, I spent the night with Nannie every Monday, and I soaked up the one-on-one time with her and, of course, enjoyed her spoiling me with her cooking. Since it was just the two of us, I got to enjoy more conversations with her and actually saw her sit down sometimes! I loved talking to Nannie, because you just never knew what she was going to say. She had such a quick wit about her and also had some pretty strong opinions (a trait that she successfully passed down to more than one of her children and grandchildren). And if she thought you were out of line, she would let you know it--sometimes punctuating it with a tap on the behind with a wooden spoon! She was fiesty and stubborn, but she was also very loving and nurturing. I can remember more than one occasion when she picked me up from school when I wasn't feeling well, and she took me home and made me the best potato soup I have ever had. Even when I went off to college, she continued to tend to me by sending me hilarious letters--which were nearly impossible to read because of her messy handwriting--and usually included some coupons or stamps or money. She wasn't usually one for talking on the phone, though, so that didn't happen very often. One of the funniest things she did, in my opinion, was to say good-bye as she was hanging up the phone.
Nannie and Bapba always wanted to take care of all of us. They would take us on vacations to Florida, supply the grandkids with quarters, cut our grass, cook and clean, give us their old cars, provide us with the most amazing vegetables from their garden, repair our houses and vehicles, and give us advice. One of my favorite treasures is that they bestowed upon each of us grandkids a quirky, yet very special, nickname. They also provided a home that we looked forward to visiting and felt quite comfortable in. We loved the familiar surroundings and the furniture that never changed. We loved that we knew where everyone was supposed to sit and what was required of you when you were there. (The women cooked and cleaned up and then sat around the dining room table to discuss life; the men slouched in the living room in front of golf or football on TV, while dozing in and out of consciousness; and the kids were sent outside to play ball, war, or "The Dukes of Hazzard"--using Bapba's tractor as the General Lee.) We celebrated so many Thanksgivings, Christmas Eves (which was also Nannie's and Bapba's anniversary), and Easters there, and we could always count on full bellies, finding our red and green stockings--which Nannie crocheted herself--filled with money and bubble gum, and Easter egg hunts that would last all afternoon (and got pretty competitive). Holidays were important family gatherings, and it made me sad when that season came to an end. It just didn't seem right to eat Thanksgiving dinner at anyone else's house.
My Nannie worked hard, and she served her family well. She loved her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. And while I'm sure it was very frustrating for her, I think she spent these last few years making up for all the rest she didn't get when she was busy with us. I'm sure she didn't stop worrying about us all, though, because she was good at that. "Life is just a series of getting used to things," she once told me. I guess that's true, but it's awfully hard to get used to her not being here with us anymore. We love you, Nannie.