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 extremes. She weaved tales. I guess the polite way of saying it is she was comfortable telling me some whoppers. Years later, Grand Mom said she did it for my own good. She used to really have me going.
About bragging, Miz Lena said, "Honey Baby, if yore good at somethin', keep it to yoreself. They ain't nothin' worse than somebody tellin' everybody about how good they are at somethin'. Or how much money they got. Or how good-lookin' they are."
When she got to the good-looking thing, here came the Aunt Fran story. Fran was raised in a family that thought themselves to be a little better than the rest. Proper talk. Proper education. Proper, proper, proper. Grand Mom didn't care much about proper.
Aunt Fran had been a county fair queen in her little hometown. Young bucks clamored for her attention. Grand Mom's dashingly handsome youngest brother, JT, went to a dance one night and swept Fran right off her feet. JT left all of Fran's suitors from the most respected of families in the dust.
Miz Lena said, "Like yore non-blood Aunt Fran. Wearin' them outfits and just dyin' fer some man to tell her how purty she thinks she is. She'll get old, and her dresses ain't gonna fit her right. Her hair ain't gonna stay blonde forever neither. Then what's she gonna do? You best keep yore opinions of yoreself to yoreself. If yore good, then everybody knows it. Ain't no need to remind 'em. Besides, 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 gittin' shot at. Not much to eat. Worryin' about gittin' killed."
She pointed out the window and said, "You ask any one of 'em what they think about somebody bein' rich, and see whut they say. They don't care nothin' about how much money somebody's got. They's just glad to be alive and workin'. Takin' care of they families. Besides, rich don't have nothin' to do with bein' a man. It's how they got rich that counts. And then what they do with it."
Miz Lena 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. When it rained, you played under the carport.
My hands were red and freezing. Miz Lena took one look at them and, for a brief moment, I thought I saw a glimpse of concern in her brow. I thought, "Aha, she feels sorry for me. I'm going to get to come inside. Maybe watch TV. Have some hot chocolate. Maybe a cookie or two. Then she turned it on me.
As I stood on the stool in front of the kitchen sink and she ran cold water, then warmer water over my hands, Miz Lena said, "They was these two little boys that didn't listen to they's mother 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 bet they wish they could build a snowman. Now, take yoreself back on outside and be thankful that yuh got hands to git 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, half-hour. Homework, half-hour. Watch a little TV, half-hour.
The half-hour of 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 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. Grand Mom 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, clean teeth, clean pajamas — that was her nightly objective. She had her work cut out for her with us three.
We might get a little more TV time. Generally, it was the news or some other "old folks" program and then off to bed. Time for prayers. Not those short-verse ones — honest-to-goodness ones. As scheduled as was Miz Lena, she 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 anything about havin' clean clothes to wear to school. Be sure to thank him for havin' family that loves you."
Then she'd wrap it up for us three boys with, "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 constant reminder, "Now, don't let me have to come back in here, or yore really gonna really have somethin' to pray about."
Let's all say a prayer for one another.
Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tennessee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.