Southern Folks: Miz Lena had a remedy and an answer for everything

Bill Stamps
Bill Stamps
photo Bill Stamps

My grandmother, Miz Lena, had many successes in life. Anytime she was congratulated for a job well done, she would say, "Well, thank you. It was by the grace of God." She could be tough and cantankerous from time to time, but she was also humble, modest and gracious.

I learned so much from her. She made her point, about most everything, in her country way.

About bragging, she said, "Honey Baby, if yore good at somethin', keep it to yoreself. They ain't nothin' worse than somebody tellin' about how good they are. Or how much money they got. Or how good-lookin' they are."

"Like yore non-blood Aunt Fran. Wearin' them outfits and just dyin' for some man to tell her how purty she thinks she is. She'll get old, and her dresses ain't gonna fit no more. Then what's she gonna do?

"You best keep yore opinions of yoreself to yoreself. If your good at somethin', then everybody knows it. Ain't no need to remind 'em. It's bad manners."

When it came to those who flaunted their wealth, it was, "They ain't that many people, these days, that's got a whole lot. Men has come back from the war and havin' to start from scratch. They was over there gettin' shot and havin' to live like poor folk live. Not much to eat. Worryin' about gettin' killed."

"You ask one a them what they think about bein' rich. They don't care about how much money somebody's got. They's just glad to be alive and workin'. Takin' care of they families. Besides, bein' rich don't have nothin' to do with bein' a man. It's how they got rich that counts. And what they do with it."

While she could be quite forthcoming with her honesty, she could spin a yarn, to make a point. She wasn't one who put up with complaining or feeling sorry for yourself. There was always a way to divert you from your problem by one-upping you.

I remember coming into the house, on a cold and snowy, Middle Tennessee winter day and complaining to her about how cold my hands were. In Miz Lena's way of thinking, kids went outside and played when it was time to clean the house. No matter the weather. In case of lightning, we'd sit under the carport.

My hands were red and freezing. Miz Lena took one look at them, and for a brief moment I was sure that I saw a glimpse of concern in her brow. Maybe some empathy. I thought, "Aha, she feels sorry for me. I'm going to get to come inside, have some hot chocolate. Maybe a cookie or two. Watch some TV.

Then she turned it on me.

As I stood on the stool in front of the kitchen sink and she ran warm water over my hands, Miz Lena said, "There was these two little boys that didn't listen to their mothers and went down there to the railroad tracks, the one that i keep tellin' yuh to stay away from. Well, they got to foolin' around, and a train come by and cut they hands off. Now, they ain't got no hands. I bet they wish they had some hands to get cold. I reckon they wish they could build a snowman. Now, you take yoreself back on outside and be thankful that yuh got two hands to get cold."

Miz Lena had her own routines and schedules. The times my two younger brothers and I lived with her, she had us on half-hour regiments. Supper, a half-hour. Homework, a half-hour. Watch a little TV, for about a half-hour.

Watching TV with Miz Lena was not necessarily a treat. Granted, we generally got a scoop or two of ice cream while sitting on the floor in front of the tube. But, as a kid, eating ice cream and being forced to watch Lawrence Welk was kind of a wash. The ice cream was gone in a matter of minutes. You still had lots of Mr. Welk to deal with.

You dare not complain, or Miz Lena would tell you to go back over your homework again.

After TV, it was "warsh-up time." My brothers and I took baths. In segments. I was always last. Getting clean was not fun. Miz Lena was in charge. Sometimes, she'd take a toothbrush to your head. She'd say, "What did you do, Honey?" Did you just go jump in the mud?"

Clean hair. Clean nails and clean teeth. Clean pajamas. That was her nightly objective. She had her work cut out for her with us three.

A little more TV time. Generally, it was the news or some other "old folks" program and then off to bed. Prayers. Not those short-verse ones. Honest-to-goodness prayers. As scheduled as she was, Miz Lena always took her time with us, when it came to the content of our prayers.

I would say, "Amen," and she would remind me, "Did you say, thank you, Lord, for havin' a roof over yore head? Thank you Lord for havin' somethin' good to eat. I didn't hear you say nothin' about havin' clean clothes to wear to school. Be sure to thank him for havin' family that loves you."

Then, she'd look up and say, "And, thank you, Lord, for these three grandbabies of mine. They's gonna be fine men someday, with yore grace."

With that, it was lights out and her reminder, "Now, don't let me haf to come back in here, or yore really gonna have somethin" to pray about."

And so it went.

Upcoming Events