My grandmother on my mother's side, Miz Lena, was a force to be reckoned with. The childhood years that I spent, off and on, under her roof and consequently under her eagle-eyes-never-missed-a-thing supervision, I never got away with anything.
It was her interrogation techniques. She had more than one. Sometimes, I really hadn't done a thing wrong that day, and before she was through with me, I'd confessed to something I'd done a few weeks back. Perry Mason had nothing on her. If Miz Lena had put her mind to it, she could have found Jimmy Hoffa.
When we lived out on the farm, before we moved into town, before I turned 5, she'd call me into the kitchen and start off with, "A little bird told me." I knew it wasn't gonna be good for me.
When Grand Mom moved us into town, she stopped telling me that a bird had told her something. She took it to a new level. From the time that I was 6, it was God who let her in on everything that I did wrong. The Almighty, according to Miz Lena, updated her on my goings-on in her dreams.
I bought it hook, line and sinker. Frankly, I believed everything my grandmother told me. Even the time that she decided that she needed to go on a diet. To her, a diet meant laying off sweets, cutting down on bread and eating smaller portions. A commonsensical diet. She kept it up for a good while.
Grand Dad seemed especially proud of Grand Mom. He told me to make sure to compliment her commitment. And I did. Miz Lena said, "Why, thank you, Honey Baby. It was hard in the beginnin', but it's gittin' better."
A few days later, I walked in on her in the kitchen. She was at the sink, eating what looked like chocolates. Several candy wrappers lay on the drainboard next to her. Miz Lena jumped 3 feet. She said, "Lord A' Mighty, boy, you about scared me to death. What have I told yuh about sneakin' up behind me?"
I really hadn't meant to startle her. I don't think she heard me over her moans of delight.
I asked her what she was eating, and she told me that she'd come back to the kitchen because she was embarrassed for anyone, especially Grand Dad, to see her take her medicine. It was the '50s. Wives kept "personal women's things" to themselves. She said it was "women's Ex-lax." I really didn't want to take it any further.
I never mentioned it to Grand Dad. I understood. Poor Grand Mom. Her secret was good with me. Although, I did think it odd that her "medicine" came in a red, heart-shaped box.
I never gave it another thought. Like I said, I never doubted my grandmother. But thinking back about it, I gotta give it to her. That was some pretty fast thinking on her feet.
Throughout my childhood Miz Lena told me a bushel of lies. Years later, when I was a grown man, we laughed about the tall tales she told me. The ones about children playing down by the railroad tracks having their arms and legs cut off. Or the green-and-yellow "karmen gods" that came and got kids who lied to their grandmothers. She was referring to karma.
There were so many more. She said that she told me those whoppers to scare me into doing the right things. She said she was worried to death that I'd "fall off a cliff or somethin'." I told her that, of course, I understood.
I asked her how her telling me that the Valentine candy that I caught her eating in the kitchen was a laxative was for my own good. She looked at me like I was crazy and said that she had no idea what I was talking about.
She had some pretty good analogies. She often used them to make a point to me. There's the one about the tennis ball. Back in the '50s, tennis balls were white. More than a few times, Miz Lena reminded me, "Yuh throw a white tennis ball up against a dirty wall and after a while, it comes back dirty."
Grand Mom must have heard that one somewhere. I doubt that she ever in her lifetime even picked up a tennis racquet. Come to think of it, I'm kinda glad she didn't. Ten to one, she'd have used that racquet rather than one of those willow switches on my behind. For sure, she'd have figured out how to backhand my butt or put some top spin on it.
We'd be watching (what all kids hate to watch) the news on TV. Without fail, Miz Lena provided commentary throughout the half-hour. She talked all the way through the newscast. She wouldn't even wait till the news story was finished. All it took was for them to mention somebody's name that she didn't much care for, and off she'd go.
Anytime they brought up President Eisenhower, she'd say, "You can have him. I'd rather have Mamie as president, and she don't act like she knows where she is half the time." If there was a story about a Hollywood starlet, Miz Lena was glued to the set.
The announcer would be talking about some celebrity's unfortunate divorce, and Miz Lena would talk to the TV. She'd say things like, "That's whut stayin' out all night'll git yuh. Yuh shoulda stopped gamlin' and gone home." Grand Mom knew what she was talking about.
She was somewhat an authority on the evils of Hollywood. She routinely read the very savory Confidential magazine. It was similar in format to today's National Enquirer, except worse.
She also read, cover to cover, several "ragtag" tabloids. The ones that outed Hollywood actors who were gay. It was a thing back then. She begrudgingly accepted Tab Hunter's heterosexual abandonment but, no matter what, never gave up on Liberace.
Miz Lena had a two-sided, caramel-stained, pine-wood magazine holder with a wagon wheel at the top of it. It sat next to the chair by the phone. Grand Mom would stick a Life or Look magazine, facing out, then stuff the "gossip rags" and her Confidential magazines in the middle, concealed from good and respectable folks.
I wasn't allowed to read them, and I didn't. I may have slipped a peek.
I thought about reminding Grand Mom of her white tennis ball theory. Surely, she had to realize that reading those gossip publications were getting her mind dirty. I decided not to. Grandson instincts kicked in. No sense in taking any chances. She was, indeed, a force to be reckoned with.
Email Bill Stamps at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books "Miz Lena" and "Southern Folks" are available on Amazon.