Velma was a fifteen-year-old from North Florida when she married Buford. She had her only child a year later, a boy who would grow up to be my father. Two years after that, in 1942, Buford was killed in a car accident. At the age of nineteen, Velma was a widow.
She would marry twice more in rapid succession, ultimately ending up in Alabama with my Granddaddy, George.
In my mind’s eye, Granny is always dressed in a neatly pressed coral colored, sleeveless, cotton button-down shirt and matching gingham checked capri pants, her red hair perfectly bouffant in juxtaposition to the beads of perspiration dotting her upper lip and forehead as she works in that hotbox she called a kitchen.
Sometimes I can manage to put her memory in the metal rocker on the front porch, or at least sit her down in the dining room, but before I know it, she’s gotten up and she’s frying cornbread, or baking a cake, or putting ice water in a mason jar.
I probably know Granny’s backside better than I ever knew her front, having followed her up and down the length of that narrow space more times than I could tell you.
For most of her life, Granny worked in the cotton mills. It was hard labor, done in bricked out buildings with no natural light or ventilation, long before OSHA or Workman’s Compensation. By the time I came along, when she was 47, she was dealing with emphysema. The chain smoking didn’t help.
She was working for J.C. Penney’s when my parents met, and she furnished her house using her employee discount and the layaway program. Little by little, Velma plugged away at beautifying her home. If she wanted something, she would put it on layaway, and pay it off a dollar at a time. Clothes. Shoes. Handbags. The plastic covered sofa in the living room. The glass swans on the mantle. She worked long and hard for everything she had.
We lived just down the hill from Granny while I was in kindergarten and first grade. My father was in Okinawa, and we had moved home to be near Grandma and Boom, and Granny and Granddaddy. Granny would pick me up from school every day and take me to the Magic Market for an Icee, and keep me at her house until Mom came to pick me up.
I thought she was the most beautiful, elegant grandmother in the world. She was poised and graceful, and moved like a dancer. I never heard her raise her voice–not even the time I stuck a straight pin into her backside. She was all Avon jewelry, pretty shoes, and perfume to me.
She was not without her challenges. Her ill-health made her very difficult at times, and for various reasons, we were not close for many years. Thankfully, in the last two years of her life, we were able to connect and fall in love again.
Cancer had whittled her down to nothing, and to her dismay her hair had grown back as white as snow after chemotherapy, but she still walked like 40s runway model and though they hung on her, her clothes were always clean and pressed.
I really didn’t know her well enough to tell you too much about her, but I do know that she always wanted a bigger bustline. At her viewing, before her funeral, I kept staring at her body. Something wasn’t right. I thought it might have been that she wasn’t wearing her glasses, or perhaps her hair wasn’t just right. I stared and stared and couldn’t put my finger on it. Then, as I was turning away, out of the corner of my eye it hit me. Granny had a substantial rack!
The funeral home had stuffed a bra for her, I guess assuming she had died of breast and not lung cancer. Granny had gone from wearing a training bra all of her life, to a full and lovely C-cup between the swells of which, her final nightgown dipped into a valley against her sternum.
She would have loved it.