Great Grandma Maggie was born in what she referred to as "oh three"--1903, not 2003. Although she only had a third grade education, that didn't mean she was ignorant. She read her Bible and any other religious books the traveling salesmen brought to her door. When she didn't agree with an author, she would not only mark out the section but would also write in the margin what he should have said according to her knowledge of Scripture.
She was a rather severe-faced, big boned woman with thin strands of grey swirled around into a makeshift bun and loosely held in place by dozens of hair pins. Although there is a picture of her in a polyester navy church dress, white buttons straight up the front, I only remember her in thin checkered house dresses, two strong trunks sticking out beneath the hem.
Grandma's house was as wonderfully odd to me as she was, her front lawn hoed to dust inside the rough-cut cypress fence because she had no lawn mower. Outside the fence by the cast iron cattle troughs ever-brimming with water lived her yard chickens and roosters. Each visit, I collected and kept those iridescent feathers.
Inside, her house was always dark, even the sitting room lit by a single table lamp. On her dining room shelf was the big white Bible with the picture of Jesus on the front cover, the captivating paintings of hell, the Garden of Eden within. In her kitchen were tea cakes made from scratch and without a recipe, always tea cakes, whether she knew we were coming over or not.
It was this Grandma who filled my head with stories of a world beyond this one, stories of sitting up nights when people were ill unto death, of seeing the light of angels around the person's head when he breathed his last. After Grandpa Calvin died, she often recounted the story of when the mantle clock suddenly started playing music, then Grandpa coming through the front door and walking to get his pipe tobacco. When she spoke to him, he vanished. Grandma wasn't one for fabricating stories; she spoke only the unvarnished, blunt truth "as Maggie saw it," so I listened intently to stories I might have otherwise laughed at.
Saturday mornings often found her calling my daddy at 6:00 to come down because Lucky had trapped a possum or raccoon under her house. Sundays always found her at church, her personal faith leaving behind a spiritual legacy for my family.
Although she had little money, one time when I was sick, she cut the cover off an old card she'd kept and taped it over someone's well wishes to her, then added her own well wishes to me. Even at age nine, I knew her grammar wasn't right, but that didn't matter. The card was precious because it was from her.Towards the end of her life, she stayed a week or so on the fold out sofa bed in my home. At my mother's prompting, I would crawl up on the bed each day and "interview" her, recording on cassette stories from her childhood. The plan was to transcribe them and surprise the family with a book of her stories for Christmas.
But, the cancer was aggressive, and she didn't make it to Christmas. My mother couldn't bear to listen to that voice we all loved so dearly, and so the stories were tucked away in the safe.
It's been close to three decades since Grandma Maggie died of cancer and went to be with her Jesus. Since then, no one has been able to duplicate those tea cakes, not even my aunt who wrote down the ingredients as Grandma Maggie measured them. Since then, no one has listened to that voice again on tape either.
Perhaps it's time to remember the stories I have long ago forgotten from a woman I can never forget.