This story is about a visit to our house by Katie Mae’s Mother, Grace Alligood Brooks who will be 92 on April 2. It is dedicated to my friends Anne Watson O’Conner and Carol Watson Miller in memory of their own dear Mother, Connie Smith Watson, who passed away just a year ago on April 10, 2013. She was 91. Their Mother and my Mother were good friends. My Mother, Rozelle Pitts Swilley, died October 16, 2006 at the age of 93. The common but golden thread woven through the lives of these three remarkable women has to be their longevity and the opportunity provided by that longevity to imbue in their children a great love of life, a keen ability for loving friends unconditionally and a heartfelt and closely held culture of caring. Needless to say the women mentioned here are all great heroes to me.
Great-Great Grandmother Granny Grace Brooks came to see us in Athens and I think we enjoyed being with her more than we ever have in the almost forty years Katie Mae and I have been married. Probably because, for once, we had her all to ourselves.
She will soon be 92 and it has only been six months since she and her middle daughter were able to gather up her granddaughter, great-granddaughter and great-great granddaughter for an all-girl five generation photograph. It was a beautiful picture and they all looked marvelous.
So Granny Brooks came to stay and at almost 92 she reminds me so much of my own sweet Mother. Each of them so often have had the same puzzled look during conversation because neither could hear and both too vain to allow the purchase of a hearing aid. They would not even talk about it (and certainly wouldn’t hear of it).
The same quizzical look is also there when you can see the lights in Granny Brooks eyes flicker with a flash of an old memory too quickly come and gone to be fully grasped and recognized for what it is or was.
Both Mama Ro (my Mother) and Granny Brooks repeated over and over the same comments about how lovely the trees are and how much prettier they will be when Spring returns. The same things were said about the birds and then the absence of the birds and then they would much enjoy the arrival of more birds as they twisted and turned and spiraled abstract paths around the house only to disappear again in an instant.
Katie Mae and I drove Granny around Athens to take her picture with some of the many big and brightly painted fiberglass replicas of Uga the Georgia Bulldog mascot. I dropped them off downtown so Katie Mae could get a picture of Granny under the famous UGA Arches.
Back at the house Granny Brooks most often sat near a back window and peered down some twelve or fifteen feet into the back yard where she could watch birds and squirrels making their living. Mama Ro would do the same from our rear window in the Statesboro house.
A feral cat is raising her children in the woods behind this house in Athens and Granny Brooks stares intently as the cat hunts the wooded area and then circles back on a regular basis to check on her young. Granny is intrigued by the cat’s actions and movements. I wonder if her fascination with the cat is because it cannot be acting any more protectively than Granny has acted for all her many years when it comes to tending her own brood.
Watching the mother cat can only make me think of the incredible sacrifice she and so many women like her made for us. We are the children of the greatest gals who ever lived. Women who were born and raised from the 1910’s through the 1930’s lived through the most despairing and hopeless times that ever existed for modern man.
Fresh off a depression that created a dearth of available necessities and foodstuffs, America was thrown headlong into a World War that created a crippling, rationing of food, supplies, gas and oil and any commodity you can name.
And that’s the same time many of us were born and raised. It’s unbelievable how well fed and clothed most of us were as we grew older. Our Mothers knew how to save seed from one year’s harvest in order to have seed to plant for the next year’s crops. Our mothers could cook huge meals from the scantiest stocked cupboards imaginable. They could sew with such dexterity that the finished product looked store bought.
Our Mothers made sure we were fed first and foremost and I sometimes feel a trifle guilty when I cannot remember ever missing a meal.
With those thoughts in mind, I questioned Granny Brooks about her own childhood and the hardships she lived through growing up on a hardscrabble farm in Mitchell County, Georgia in the late 1920’s and 30’s. It is an enduring story for people who care but, sadly, a story that people tend to forget. It would do us all well to remember these women and what they had to live through and what they did for us.
Our son Paul took Katie Mae’s iPad and filmed Granny Grace telling some of her story. I suspect that film will become a family treasure.
This is a woefully inadequate tribute to these fine women. We should never pass up on an opportunity to remember how much we owe them and how much we love them. Thank you Grace Alligood Brooks, Connie Smith Watson and Rozelle Pitts Swilley for all the deprivation you endured so we would not be deprived.