On my grandmother’s death…

This is a very nice blog posted by my sister.

My grandmother (who helped raise me on a farm in Huntersville, NC when my mom and I lived in a trailer on Maw-Maw’s property after my mom’s divorce from my dad) passed away on my birthday a few years ago (a good omen, I feel) after a long illness (emphysema). My comments within her blog are in [brackets].

Maw-Maw and I had a unique relationship; along with my cousins, Mike and Lee (we are — strangely — half-siblings, owing to the fact of our mothers being identical twins), we were the closest grandchildren to her, because of the fact that mom and I lived on her property for a few years, and her twin sister (and children) was a very frequent visitor/sometime guest in the trailer with us. Back then, in the early/mid-1970s, they lived out in the “sticks”: deep woods, with very few neighbors. We raised animals and farmed: it was quite a rural, self-sufficient life, and I learned a lot from Paw-Paw (my grandfather by their marriage, and the only one I’ve known on either side of my family) about mechanical things and music (they were both musical, it was like the Weavers or something; he sings like Johnny Cash, and they both played Bluegrass style guitar), and from Maw-Maw about life, farming and philosophy. I grew up poor, but happy and well-loved.

I last got to see her in November (my wife, Sunni, and I were informed that she might not make it past Thanksgiving), so we all had a great visit. It was obvious that she was having a lot of difficulty, even then. She really had no pain, though, which is good.

I feel that her death has a lesson, just as her life did (see my sister’s nice summation, below): DON’T SMOKE. She was a smoker (Virginia Slims) for forty-some odd years. She was still smoking during the last months of her illness, against my personal wishes (expressed to my mother).

My sister’s blog:

Well, today was very sad. My grandmother on my mom’s side, Maw-Maw, passed away Saturday morning around 6:30. Her funeral was today [Monday, March 3] at 1:00 in Charlotte, down the street from where she lived. Near where my [he designed it, also] Paw-Paw built their house, and where she used to plant vegetables and flowers and where we gathered in my youth for any family function. Where my parents were married…

I thought I should share with you, my friends, just how great she was. She was, and continues to be, a joy and inspiration to myself and many others.
She came from Tennessee [the kids were born on the hazy moutain border between NC and TN, a tiny hamlet called Hot House, TN], I believe, her father was a Cherokee native american and her mother was caucasian. She was married and had her first child, my uncle, at 15 years old. She had seven children and lost two by the time she was in her early twenties. She was living in an abusive relationship.

My genetic grandfather, whom I have never met and died a while back, beat her when she was pregnant, kicked her in the stomach and knocked her down, broke her arm by slamming in a window, and beat all the children as well. My uncle’s head shakes to this day from when his father hit her in the stomach while she was pregnant with him. My mother’s childhood photos show she had a lop-sided smile from where he dislocated her jaw. He actually held my uncle’s head down on a chopping block (they lived on a farm) and threatened to chop his head off. They were all the victims of psychological and physical abuse that I’m sure is hard to imagine. It is for me. So Maw-Maw took her 7 young kids, two of which are identical twins, my mom and my aunt, and left that asshole.

Penniless, still a kid herself, and with 7 mouths to feed, she made her way via the kindness of strangers to Thomasville, NC to Mill’s Home, an orphanage. She asked them to accept her 7 children while she could make a life for herself so that they would be protected, have food and shelter, and a safe environment and education. They wanted to split them up between two orphanages, but Maw-Maw wouldn’t hear of it. It was all or nothing. So, they accepted them in, and to this day it is still the largest family ever taken in by Mill’s Home.

They had a good life there, went to school and got to grow up together. And of course Maw-Maw always went to see them and stay with them as much as she could. They graduated high school there and went off to make their own lives having had the joy to grow up with each other. Not many families that come from that kind of background are so lucky. If Maw-Maw didn’t fight to get her kids out of that situation and into a better life, who knows what may have happened to all my aunts and uncles, and my mom? Then one day she met Paw-Paw.

He is one of the kindest people I have ever known, the father her kids should have had, and the only grandfather any of us have ever known. They both are country-living people. They farm and make things with their hands. Paw-Paw built their house, Maw-Maw always had a full pantry of vegetables she canned herself, and a fridge full of food for anyone who came through her door. She made quilts and maybe a billion dolls with yarn for hair, and Paw-Paw would too. Paw-Paw actually never learned to read, and when they got together Maw-Maw taught him how [I helped him with this, also, as I was learning to read when we lived there: I taught him some passages from the “Good Book”, which was all he really wanted to read]. They all remained very close with each other, Maw-Maw, Paw-Paw and all their kids. And all their kids’ kids and now all the great-grandkids too! I can’t ever keep all their names straight, my mom’s good at that though. I see them every year at Christmas. We have an annual family reunion and everybody cooks and brings something and we just spend the day together. It used to always be at Maw-Maw’s house, but in the last few years it would be in a church down the road. But of course everyone would end up at Maw-Maw’s at some point to visit with them. I remember when I was little playing with my cousins on the tire swing in her yard, playing horseshoes and feeding her chickens. I always would string beans with her and my mom in the summers and picking “‘maters” when I was little, and we’d go out window shopping all the time, or wandering through the yard enjoying all her flowers and talking. I’ll never forget the years of sipping her sweet tea on the front porch Paw-Paw worked so hard to build just right, with a swing and all. She was always laughing, smiling, and telling stories. She is dearly, dearly missed.

All her kids, and Paw-Paw were at her bedside when she died. She wasn’t in any pain, and it was probably the kind of death we hope we all are lucky enough to inevitably get ourselves. And even though she was under hospice care, the fact that she is really gone is still so hard to believe. Her oldest grandkid is 40 [Jason is 38]! I’m the youngest grandkid, at 26. The last day I saw her was my birthday last week. I drove to Charlotte with Kit, and we sort of said our goodbyes. She loved Kit! [She was very open: she loved Sunni very much as well; her family and my family are distantly related, and we all look alike!] She said I keep getting “purtier and purtier” every time she sees me, and that she was so happy I came to see her on my birthday and that she would never forget that. Not that it mattered to me what day it was or how I look, but that’s just typical Maw-Maw. She was always so sweet and kind, and always thinking about others even up to her very last day on earth. I’ll never forget that last visit with her, or all the great things she did for her family, my family, and how they were her pride, her love, and her life.

We can all learn something from a person like her. Unconditional love, strength in the face of humongous adversities and the value of hard work and sincerity in all that you do. That’s what made her so special and that’s what was filling a huge part of so many people’s lives. Now she’s gone, but her mark on my life will always be there. When I think things really suck, I just think about how strong she was and I can cope better.

So, bye Maw-Maw, I’ll miss you.

Well said: our sentiments exactly…

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