Ettie Elese was my maternal grandmother. No one could pronounce the woman’s name. Ettie became Eddie, and Elese (the name she used most often) was bastardized into Elsie or Eloise. Even my grandfather shortened her name to Eez. I always felt badly about that. She was dismissive and cranky about it, as she deserved to be. Everyone should be able to have her own name. She, my mother and I all share the middle name. Grandma pronounced it el-EEZ. My mother pronounces it UL–ees. I pronounce it ee-LEECE. Not the only difference among us.
Elese was a brilliant mind. The woman could look at a map once and memorize it, and she understood direction like no one I’ve ever met. With a sixth grade education, she had a vocabulary that rivaled any news anchor, all derived from Reader’s Digest word games, and a voracious appetite for books, newspapers, and Court TV. You would never have known that this woman was uneducated, the daughter of a moonshine running lumber worker, who once cussed out a preacher.
She had her issues. Most of us do. My cousins and I all had very different experiences with her, as did her children and their spouses. Some were good, some were bad, some were the things you don’t even talk about outside of deep therapy. There are days my greatest fear is that I will lose my mind and without the mental filter, I will be just like her. There are days when I purposefully muster up every ounce of her that is in me, and wear her like a thick, leather tool belt around my waist, metaphorically girding my loins with her memory. Every day, every single day, I miss her. That’s funny to say if you know some of what she put me through, but it’s the truth. At her best, she was better than anyone. The sad thing is that at her worst, she was the devil. And I think she had more fun jabbing that pitchfork than polishing her halo. Basically, she was the Scarlett O’Hara of the dirt farming set.
I think if she could have gone to school, gotten a degree and put that mind to use, she would have been a happier, less volatile woman. She was a master strategist. She could look at a situation and tell you six different outcomes without having to wrinkle her brow. Give her five more minutes and she could tell you exactly how to manipulate every one of those outcomes, and how to deal with the possible outcroppings thereof. I wish she had played chess. She could have kicked Bobby Fisher’s ass.
She liked to be in the know, hence the police scanner she listened to constantly, and the Court TV. She actually read the paper. She also read all of the gossip magazines. From the White House to the Playboy Mansion, that woman knew everything that was going on in print.
She hated Ford, Carter, Clinton, and both Bushes, and she loved to make fun of my grandfather for voting for Carter because he thought Carter would do something for Georgia. She loved politics. She loved Constitutional law. She loved learning.
Toward the end of her life, we had a very complicated relationship, but I loved her dearly. I don’t kid myself about her or make excuses for her, but I accept her, and I am fiercely proud of what she accomplished with so little. When I’m having trouble sleeping, I will close my eyes and imagine myself in her bed, recreating the cool dark of that hardwood floored bedroom, the pinging sound of the floor vents, and the smell of her satin pillowcases. She and my grandfather made that place home for me. Now, over ten years since I stepped foot in that house, it is still where my heart goes for Sunday dinner.
If she were alive, I would introduce you to her. She would be coy and flirt her way through the answers to the questions. She would tell you that she wasn’t much. But I know better. She was well worth knowing. Good, bad, and ugly. Just like you. Just like me. Just like every other woman.
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