My grandmother was a feisty old lady. Born Hattie Mae before the turn of the last century, she ‘married well’ and became a grand lady in the southern tradition, taking on her husband’s surname and refining her given name to Harriet M.
Putting her hair up was the first thing she did in the morning and letting it down, brushing it 100 strokes before she braided it was the last thing she did at night; I doubt she ever owned a pair of pants and I never saw her leave the house without her hat and gloves.
Most people found her to be very difficult, but I loved her and enjoyed her company. I never wore make-up around her, skirts had to be knee-length and legs crossed at the ankle, only a floozy (according to her) would cross them at the knee. Young ladies should do needlework so she taught me to knit and embroider. Store-bought bread was an affront to God who had given us two good hands she’d always have fresh bread when we arrived to visit. Imagine being a teenager of the 70’s and spending time with those old-fashioned attitudes!
Most importantly she showed me what it means to live a Christian life. She was Gramma Fee to everybody in her church and knitted a pair of booties for every baby born into her congregation; she attended services every Sunday morning and Wednesday night; she’d take bread and homemade canned goods around to people in need or just to be neighborly; and she always talked aloud to Jesus as if he was right there with us, which of course, he was. Her beliefs were very rigid; she was as counter-cultural in her own way as any hippie of the times.
Sometimes her belief in her own righteousness made her a little ‘uppity’ and sometimes downright rude to others she didn’t think were measuring up. There were times when I’d see her rudeness that my own arrogance led me to think that I was a better Christian than she was … but later I was privileged to spend a little time with her just before she died.
She spent her last years in a nursing home and the last time I saw her she was in a hospital bed unable to brush her hair or braid it, unable to reach behind herself to cover her nakedness. I straightened her up and did her hair as we talked. She saw how sad I was to see her in those circumstances and assured me that everything was okay. She said God had a lot of work to do in her, that she’d needed to be knocked down a bit to learn some humility and she hoped to be ready to go to him soon. I’m thinking of her as I begin this new venture and I’m thankful to that old-fashioned lady who taught me so much about not conforming to the times.