Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Grandma, an Unusual Woman

I can't help but be a little sister.  Dawn wrote a beautiful memorial to our grandmother, and like any little sister, I had to copy big sister.  I just want to take a moment to capture some of my favorite memories of a woman I called Grandma.

Barbara Prudden Clevenger came to this world on July, 1, 1933 and departed this world to be with her beloved husband, Ernie, on April 5, 2013.  To me it makes perfect sense. Grandma always loved the spring. She dressed in spring colors pretty much all year round and loved the flowers and bright blue skies of the season.  I can't say for sure if spring was her favorite time of the year, but she always seemed particularly fond of April, May, and June.

Grandma was unusual.  She lived her life to a peculiar tune and was always finding a reason to smile.  She wasn't mean, loud, or scary as some grandmas.  Instead she enjoyed laughter and over sentimental gestures like calling just to tell me a story she remembered about when she and Grandpa visited us in Texas when Dawn and I were tiny.  

She liked to recall the old days, when she was a young girl who fell in love with the most handsome boy she had ever seen.  The boy who became a veteran of WWII.  The boy who was forced to grow from a boy to a man while he was in Japan and saw things that would haunt him for the rest of his life.  The man who was awarded for his bravery when he returned to help his fellow fallen soldiers. The man who became her husband and best friend through trials, sickness, and immense pain.  She was in love with that boy. And I think to her, he remained that handsome boy for over 60 years. Because each time she looked at him, her eyes sparkled with the same intensity of a young girl seeing the man of her dreams for the very first time.  

Grandma would go on and on for hours about the days of her youth.  When I was about 17, my grandparents and aunt Frankie stopped in Tulsa on their wait to Houston.  I hitched a ride with them as I was heading down to spend time with Dawn.  A trip that usually takes 8 hours turned into a 12 hour journey through Oklahoma and Texas that I will never forget.  I sat in the back seat with Frankie and it was probably an hour into the trip when Grandma started talking about life during the Great Depression.  Most of the stories were about simple survival and making the most out of limited means.  She told me about how her parents and siblings often grouped with other families and combined resources to make life bearable.  Some of the things she witnessed would have been too much for my young heart and mind to overcome.  But Grandma was unique.  She'd been through hell and back, saw things that nightmares are made of, and lived through it with a smile on her face.  In fact, her favorite stories were the ones about having fun even while the world was going to shit!  Grandpa was silent for the most part, but at one point her turned his head and said "Barbara!  Nobody wants to hear your crazy stories!".  But I did.  We did!  Frankie and I sat in the back saying to one another "we should be writing this down...".  I will never forget that trip.  

My Grandma was also a champion for the underdog. When she loved someone, she loved them wholly and unconditionally   Even when they messed up and even when everyone else turned their back on them, Grandma still loved them and didn't hide her affections.  She often seemed riddled with confusion and felt helpless when her people weren't getting along.  She just wanted her family to be together and love one another.  It didn't always happen as she desired but she never gave up hope that it was possible.  She was everyone's cheerleader...even when they didn't deserve her accolades. 

Did I mention that my grandmother was unique?  Boy was she!  She loved being involved and active so to make things more interesting for herself she got a job at T G & Y.  In case you don't remember it was a little department store kind of like Family Dollar or General Dollar.  She always had a story about what happened at work that day and it was always, and I mean always something interesting.  One of my favorite stories is her unusual relationship with and individual on the fringe of society.  I never knew his name, but he lived in our neighborhood. He always wore white linen and rode around town on, I guess you'd say tricycle.  I don't know what else it would be called.  He had long white hair, was very quite and never bothered anyone.  He'd just ride by in the sunshine, blinding you as the light reflected from the pale skin, hair, and clothes he wore.  Oh!  Did I mention he was a cross dresser? Yes - white hair, pale skin, white linen, lips and cheeks.  Well, this man would ride to T G & Y where he met Grandma - a stranger to nobody and friend to everyone.  Grandma didn't even seem phased by this odd person. Instead, she walked around the store and helped him pick out makeup! Knowing my grandmother, the linen donned cross dresser probably knew our entire family history, how long she'd been married, what her children and grandchildren's names were, and that her favorite color was anything girly.  The poor guy probably never said a word.  But, for a moment, imagine his gratitude for this crazy old lady who didn't even blink at the site of him.  Instead she told him where to park the tricycle and what shade would look best against his transparent skin. That was my Grandma.  No, she wasn't an activist for any cause, she was just kind.  I'd call it Christlike.  She had a smile and I'm sure it was never forgotten by those she touched with her warm heart.

The thing I believe Grandma passed down to me was her childlike wonder of the world.  My dad certainly has it and I have it, too.  It's in our bright blue eyes and when I look at my reflection, I see her and the hope she carried in her heart for everyone she loved.  

Thank you, Grandma.  Thank you for the late nights watching weird television shows while we painted our nails and talked about boys.  Thank you for the endless supply of ghost stories that frightened me and excited me!  Thank you for taking me to church and asking the preacher to allow me to sing while you sat on the front row and watched. Not as if you were watching Carrie, but as if you were watching a star.  You certainly made me feel like one in your eyes.  Thank you for doing anything for a laugh!  Whether you were making a silly face or  dumping sugar on your head, thank you for teaching me the importance of smiling through the tears.  Thank you for being the most unlikely teacher of tolerance.  Thank you for loving music and sharing it with me.

Grandma, you rarely let them see you sweat, and if they did you made a joke out of it to relive the pressure.  And today, while I sit and think about you, a song comes to mind and I can see you singing along. And it is no accident that it's a Charlie Chaplin song!  So, here's to you Grandma! I carry you in my heart forever. I love you


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