Growing up, Granny loved to tell me stories about what she called, “the good old days.”
Tales involving picking cotton, drawing water from a well, and all of her siblings having to share one bed during the winter to stay warm.
“This was the good old days?” I asked her once.
“Yes,” she was replied. “They was.”
That’s how Granny, talked too. She dropped out of school, maybe in third grade or so, to help work the fields. She didn’t speak proper grammar and didn’t care. It never stopped her from getting her point across.
Her stories included growing up in the Depression and how they survived. Huddling around the wood burning stove to stay warm, wearing clothes until threadbare, and never throwing anything away. She was a packrat of the highest caliber, because she grew up in poverty.
“What are you going to make with this?” I asked her once, moving a huge garbage bag containing fabric off the couch.
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll make something. Don’t you worry about it. Clothes, curtains, quilts. It’ll get used.”
And it would, too.
The woman would wash and re-use aluminum foil and Ziploc bags and thought if someone was using thick Dixie plates at a dinner and threw them away, they were “just showing how high fa-lootin’ they was.” Dishes were not supposed to be disposable.
She told me about riding the bus to Plattsburg, New York, alone, to get to Pop. They had eloped, Granny lying to her mother that she was spending the night at a cousin’s house, and the next morning, my grandfather headed back to where ever he was stationed in the Army. Granny went back home to her mama and daddy, never breathing a word she was married until she announced she was heading north. Their wedding night was only their third date.
“How in the world could you let Pop go back up there and not go with him?” I asked.
“Back then, you did what you had to. He was in the Army and he had to save up money to get me a bus ticket,” was her no nonsense reply.
Those times, were not easy, nor were the years that followed and they made steel run through veins. She was resilient and tough.
“Why do you always talk about those times, Granny?” I asked her one day as she started up on one of her yarns for the umpteenth time.
“Because they was the good old days, Lit’l Un.”
Good? How in the world could she describe them as good?
All she told me about was how poor they were, how they struggled, how getting through the day was sometimes a miracle of itself.
“How was that good?” I wanted to know.
“It just was. If you was breathin’ and on the other side of the ground, it was good.”
Her stories were woven around my grandfather serving in World War II, my uncle in Viet Nam. Mama, she said, made her proud because she had a job that was in an office and didn’t have to do the labor she had.
“You never tell her you are proud of her,” I said to her once. “That may make her feel better, you know.”
Granny stuck her chin out, not one to be chastised for anything. “She don’t need to know if I am proud of her or not; I am and that’s all that cussed matters.”
After over 20 years of hearing her stories, I started to tune them out or make her change the conversation. “You’ve told me this already, old woman,” I’d tell her.
“Yeah, well you ain’t listened, old gal,” she said in return.
How I’d love to hear her old stories again. The only thing close to it I have is, thankfully, a DVD my beloved cousin, Dotty, made of her talking and telling some of her stories to them.
I miss her stories and more importantly, I miss her common sense about the things that happened in the world around us. Especially lately, I’ve yearned for her comfort, for her wisdom, and for her just declaring that things would be OK and we would survive – meaning all of us – because that was the only choice we had.
It seemed like her focus was always about surviving, just surviving one thing from the next. How in the world could she consider those ‘good old days?’
I asked her that one day.
The question actually struck her speechless for a moment. “One day, you’ll understand. It ain’t about the little petty problems or any of this other junk. It’s about the moment, and being with family and friends. Don’t matter how much money you got, that stuff’s fleeting. It mattered about how much love.”
She had the ones she loved around her.
Maybe it was the good old days after all.