I woke up this morning happy. My Granny Jean had come to visit me in a dream. It was weird. Everyone was giving me birthday gifts wrapped in Christmas paper but when I opened them they were just pieces of cardboard with mud smeared on them. But Granny Jean was so sweet and kissed me on the head and gave me Little Debbie oatmeal creme cookies. Then I woke up.
It was nice. Ordinarily I have the type of dreams where I wake up in a cold sweat and a panicked gasp for air after being thrown off a large roller coaster that I’m driving my Buick on (yeah, I know) or I’ve been submerged under water for a long time and someone is holding me by my face with a gigantic hand. But today I got to see my late grandmother and she even gave me the greatest Little Debbie’s ever made! (Yeah, Wendy! Oatmeal Creme Cookies are the best. NOT those lame Zebra Stripes!)
Knowing about my Granny Jean might give you a glimpse into my personality. My grandmother, Mary Emma Ward-Nicholas was fondly called Jean by my grandfather, Roy. He used to sing that song “Jean, Jean, Roses are Red” to her. She was 39 years old when I was born. She was 39 years my entire life. I was pregnant with my 4th baby when she passed away…at 39 years of age. She was a good Southern woman who wore shorts around the house with her knee high stockings rolled down and her supportive shoes on. I remember spending the night at her house and staying up late to watch Johnny Carson with her while we both ate Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal. (Because really it’s more like a dessert than a breakfast food.) She kept Trident gum in a tin shaped like an apple on top of the refrigerator and made a mean lemon pound cake in a bundt form that she lovingly called “Buddy Cake” after my granddad, Buddy. (We never called him Granddad. He wasn’t old enough to be our grandfather, but he would be our buddy.)
Granny Jean taught me how to make biscuits from scratch, several times. Because I thought I was too smart to write it down and eventually had to ask my Aunt Ginger to tell me again as an adult when I finally did write it down. Granny Jean is the only person I know who would ask you, “How do you like your oatmeal done?” Well, in our family you did have a choice. You could either eat it with a spoon or a fork. I always went with the fork version and would throw a fried egg on top. She kept her mayonnaise in the cupboard instead of the fridge and none of us ever got food poisoning from it…EVEN in the Alabama heat.
Whistling at my grandparents house was for OUTDOORS ONLY. We could actually get in trouble for whistling in the house. And screaming…forget it, you’d better be bleeding to death or you’d wish you were. Granny Jean loved to laugh and was always lighthearted.
The Nicholas grandchildren were all taught to be card sharks. Granny Jean played Bridge sometimes with her friends but with us kids she played Spades, Hearts, War, Rummy, Double Solitaire, and Bullshit! We went through a brief phase where we played spoons but too many of us ended up getting hurt diving across the floor or kitchen table to grab up the last piece of silverware available. Rainy days, sunny days, ANY days you could find a gaggle of kids around shuffling and bridging a deck of cards like they were professional dealers in any Vegas casino.
Thanksgiving in Mobile was always my favorite. I brought my husband down to Thanksgiving at Granny Jean and Buddy’s house when we were living in Georgia. He’d never experienced that much Turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, etc before. The homemade pies lined the length of the buffet and while everyone else was watching the football game, Mohamed began to yawn. Apparently, he’d never experienced that much tryptophan, either. Granny Jean took him into her room and told him to lie down on her bed. Mohamed was embarrassed and told her, “That’s okay, Granny.” She insisted and told him that there wasn’t a member of our family yet that hadn’t had a nap on her bed at least once. He zonked out an official member of the family.
When she finally died, I couldn’t make it to her funeral. I was too far pregnant with my daughter, Samiya, and we were living in Maryland by then. Daddy called me to tell me the news and then asked me if I knew where my sister, Monika was so that he could inform her. I told him that she had said something about going to have dinner at her boyfriend’s house. She later told me of the events that followed her conversation with Daddy on the phone. She said that she cried when she hung up the phone. Here’s the way it went with her
Boyfriend: What’s wrong? Are you okay?
Monika: No. That was my dad. My grandmother is dead.
Boyfriend: (Hugging her) Were you two close?
Monika: I was her namesake.
Boyfriend: Oh. Her name was Monika?
Monika: No. (sobbing)
Boyfriend: Oh. So her name was Jean?
Monika: No. But she always liked the name Jean.
Boyfriend: (Not the first time confused by our family history) How old was she?
Monika: (Laughing now) 39!!!!!!!!!!
Yup. That was my grandmother. Still making us smile from beyond the grave.