Always a car-sleeper as a young girl, I would awaken to the sound of gravel beneath the tires. To this day, that sound excites me, bringing back memories of simpler times.
One week each summer, my twin sister and I were transported to what seemed like a different era and country, although in actuality it was just two hours west of our home. We never knew what our parents did after they dropped us off. It never mattered because Grandma's house symbolized a week of freedom, exploration, and peace. I wouldn't know what peace of mind felt like today if it weren't for those visits. Trust me, once you've experienced it, you fight like hell to keep it.
She called herself "Fat Grandma", so we called her that too. Fitting to her name, she was just under five feet tall and almost as wide. Her broad lap was spread out enough to hold both of us and was the best seat in the house. If one of us stood on each side of her we could encircle her tummy and just about touch each other's hands. That was Fat Grandma and we loved her!
I'm not sure she ever knew one of us from the other, so she usually called us "girls" or "lil' sh*ts". The latter was reserved for when we were climbing the antenna beside her house or performing a balancing act on a particularly high wall lining one side of her carport. Both names were usually spoken with a toothless grin. Fat Grandma had a tendency to lose her teeth which always sent my sis and me into a fit of giggles while we played, "Who can find Grandma's teeth?"
During our week, we'd share the swing on the carport with her every afternoon, listening to the radio, and snapping green beans. Her yard was covered with trees and flowers. Anything that wanted to grow there was welcome. Weeds were not something concerning to Grandma. She appeared to live without worry or irritation, except for one neighbor she had living across the street. He lived alone and I only ever saw him through his window. Grandma called him "Mr. Peepers" and said he was always watching folks when he ought to be minding his own business. That was the only cross word I'd ever heard her speak against a person. If we ever uttered an unkind word she'd Shh! us real quick. No unpleasant talk was allowed around her.
We were too busy climbing trees, picking apples and cherries for her pies, to miss the lack of toys around. Our imaginations created our fun at her house. Never seeing a need for a driver's license, Grandma walked everywhere she needed to go. Once during the week the three of us would trek down that old, gravelly road to the grocery store and haul back the bags of groceries. She'd tell us each to pick a piece of candy to munch on for the long walk back home. As an adult, I was excited to find a house near a grocery store and repeated that joyful piece of history with my own son.
Unlike my privileged upbringing, Fat Grandma was raised with little money, and an eighth-grade education. She had married a much older man who died before I ever knew him. Since his death, she had lived alone in a tiny house where her most precious belongings were her flowers and fruit trees in the backyard. As far as material possessions, her life paled starkly to mine, yet in her meager surroundings, I found contentment.
Later in life, I realized it was her attitude and natural love of life that my sensitive soul found most comforting. In my home, anxiety found me at a very early age. I felt everyone's emotions around me and my parents exuded quite a few negative ones. The only way I could feel better was to make them feel better; that's quite a burden for a very young girl. With Grandma, I could just "be". And without outside negative influences, my natural Spirit is a joyful one.
I remember Mom worrying about Grandma quite a bit. She didn't like her living alone and always wanted to supplement her life with material things. Grandma always refused such things, fussing, "I don't need that stuff." All she wanted was a jug of Jack Daniels whiskey every winter. With a twinkle in her eye, she'd said, "It keeps the winter chill away." Curious enough, I never knew her to be sick. She lived well up in her nineties and peacefully died one night in her sleep.
When I asked about her drinking, Mom told us Grandma liked to drink her whiskey each night while quilting. That was her wintertime fun when the Kentucky winters kept her inside. Sure enough, come springtime, she'd have another double-wedding-ring quilt finished to store in her closet. Mom tried to get her to sell some, telling her they'd bring her quite a bit of money. Grandma refused, saying she had everything she needed. Hard telling how many quilts her crooked fingers had created, but we all fought over them after she passed away as if they were worth a million dollars each.
My life took some hard turns after Grandma died. My husband left me when our son was three years old. The divorce took a lot of "things" from me, but I quickly found joy in a simpler life. Committed to being the best mom for my son, I didn't do much "adulting". I had to rediscover myself and found joy in the little things. I renewed my love of the outdoors - walking every day, enjoying my flowers. Money was tight so I turned to the free things in life for enjoyment - nature, for one. My son and I enjoyed visiting national parks and the smaller parks in our community.
My parents wanted to supplement my life as they saw fit. Like Fat Grandma, I refused their help. Turns out, I had acquired some of her stubborn independence. Mom didn't like my isolation from adults ... particularly men. She couldn't understand how I could be content without a man in my life. During one rant she'd said, "You're just like your grandma!" I smiled, taking it as a compliment.
Like Grandma, I found I enjoyed my own company. Despite whatever hardships I was enduring, I also found gratitude each day for the life I was given. It's funny the things you realize as an adult after looking back at your childhood. No doubt Grandma knew my sis and I loved her, but I sure wish she knew my sincere appreciation for the intangible gifts she gave me.
Without a doubt and without two cents to her name, Fat Grandma was the richest person I'd ever known.