Lessie Belle

Here’s a story about my grandmother I wrote as part of an assignment for my Creative Writing course. The assignment was to write a verbal portrait of someone important in my life. Granny is one of the most important people for me!

Lessie Belle

She, of the cloud-white hair and clacking dentures, holds a place near and dear to the hearts of her children and grandchildren. Granny, mother, Lessie Belle, are all names to which she answered. Her short arms are always open wide, ready for a hug. The slightly mischievous smile on her face begs for a conspirator to come play. That invitation in her sun-faded blue eyes is something few can resist.

As a child, she taught me how to make “Granny Candy”. We would spread wax paper on the kitchen table so the mess would be somewhat contained. We separated the egg yolk from the white using the eggshell and mixed the whites with the powdered sugar, much of which ended up dusting our clothes. Then she would let me roll out the dough and spread the peanut butter; that was my favorite part. I loved (and still love) peanut butter. When we rolled it into a log, it was almost done. The candy was chilled and sliced, and she and I would be the first ones to sample the sweet, salty treat. The dough would melt in my mouth like sweet cream and the peanut butter would coat my tongue with delicious gooiness. Nothing in this world tasted better.

Every so often, all four of Granny’s daughters and their families would gather at her house at Christmas time. She would be waiting at the door, asking if we wanted anything to eat. There would be a cornucopia of snacks on the dining room table for us to sample with only a playful warning from her, “Now don’t spoil your dinner. I have enough food for an army.” Granny seemed to be everywhere at once, not an easy feat in a house so full of grown-ups, teenagers, little kids, and babies. She wanted to catch up on all of our lives. When she sat me down to chat, I felt like I was the only person in the room because her eyes never wavered from my face, and she would reach out and touch my hand every so often. She asked about school, my friends whose names she miraculously remembered, my piano lessons, and how I was doing since my dog died. I felt like I could tell her anything. Back then, we would only get to come to Granny’s a few times a year. I always wished that we lived closer.

The greatest gift of my life was going to college in the same town where Granny lived. I would go to her house almost weekly to do laundry or eat dinner or just to talk. She would make me a cup of hot chocolate, and we’d sit in the den where she’d ask what was going on. She had the same intuition that her daughter, my mother, had and seemed always to know when something was bothering me. I would pour my heart out to her about my roommate troubles, the boy I liked who only wanted to have sex with me, and why my dad was such an ass. Her explanation for the first two was simple; my roommate “had bedroom eyes and boys just knew which girls would ‘put out’. You are not one of those girls.” She added, “Someday you will find a nice boy and he will be wonderful and will make you laugh.” My father, she would explain, was a complicated man, but he loved me very much. It took many, many more discussions to convince me of that.

During those years, Granny spent hours patiently teaching me how to crochet, a skill that everyone in her family had benefitted from in the form of a warm afghan in which to wrap up. My skills improved with every project, and it earned me the nickname, Mama Donna at school. I told Granny about that and she said, “Well, there are worse names I’ve heard.” My crocheting is her legacy that I passed on to my dearest friends when they had babies. Each time I would make an afghan, I would hear her voice in my ear encouraging me when I made a mistake and telling me what a good job I was doing. Her love is woven into every stitch.

My trips to Granny’s weren’t always about me. Some days, I would take her shopping at her favorite dress shop down town. She was a short, roundish woman who wore half sizes, back when they made those. She was a 14 ½ petite, to be exact. She’d search the racks for fabrics she liked, and I would get them down and make sure they were her size. The dresses were old-fashioned with tiny pearl buttons or zippers in the front, floral or plaid prints and made from lightweight material because she still had hot flashes. We never left the shop without buying something new, which was a good thing since she never wore anything but dresses, ever. The only time I’ve ever even seen her in a pair of pants was when Gaynelle, her oldest daughter, bought her a pair of sweatpants with a matching sweatshirt. It had a mama duck with “Granny” on it followed by four adorable baby ducks with the names of Gaynelle’s children embroidered on them. We have a picture of that outrageous outfit; had she been a teenager, the camera would have caught her rolling her eyes.

Granny saw all of her girls married and had a special relationship with her grandchildren. She even got to meet a few of her great grandchildren. In 1996, it happened that three of her four daughters were visiting one weekend. I was also there, on my way to finish up classes for my Master’s degree. Granny was 92 and still had her sense of humor, though we could tell that she was just a bit off. She was looking out the windows of the sunroom watching a turtle trundle through the back yard. She would ask, “What is that crawling through the grass?” We would tell her what it was only to have her ask again moments later. There’s a pond in the pasture behind the house and turtles always found their way into the yard. Her not recognizing the plodding creature was disconcerting. I left for school on Sunday; she had an episode with her heart and died a few days later without ever regaining consciousness. I was very thankful that I had just been there and able to give her one last hug. The pastor who spoke at her funeral captured her spirit. We laughed through our tears, as he regaled us with funny stories about her pets, her daughters, and her grandchildren. That is how I like to remember her…laughing with that mischievous glint in her eyes.

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