It Can’t Be Erased

Four months after my father’s mother died, my Granddad called to ask my sister and me if we would come help clean out his attic.

My grandmother, Glennis Smith Adams, grew up in northwest Georgia during the Great Depression.   Breakfast, she often told me, was sometimes only a biscuit dunked in a cup of coffee – “soakie,” she called it.  Lunch at school was often a hunk of cold cornbread and a cup of buttermilk.   But even that didn’t last long because she had to quit school after the third grade to help her family pick cotton.  The tenth of eleven children, her mother died giving birth to her little brother when Grandmom was three years old.  After that, she was raised by her older sisters until her father heard about a widow just across the Alabama line.  He’d never met the woman, but he wrote her a letter asking her to marry him, and just like that, “Miss Sarah” became their stepmother.  And she was, by all accounts, very good to Grandmom and her family.

Children of the Depression and of World War Two never threw anything away.  The attic wasn’t exactly a potential episode of Hoarders, but it was obvious that Grandmom was a bit of a pack rat.  We found piles of old sheets from our own childhood beds in that attic.  She’d saved them, I guess, thinking that at some point they could be used as quilting pieces. Old clothes were treated the same way.  We found stacks and stacks of old cards she and Granddad had received over the years.  Curiously, those from her generation were signed in pencil.  Only those from her children and grandchildren were signed in pen.  Grandmom had once explained to me that people used to sign cards in pencil so that the signatures could be erased and the cards reused.  Alternately, during times when greeting cards were too much of an extravagance, she and Granddad had driven to the drug store and each of them had picked out a card that said what they wanted to say.  But they didn’t purchase the cards; they handed them to one another in the drug store, read them, and then went on their way.

Her old cookbooks were hilarious.  Next to a recipe she’d tried and liked, she would write:  “Good.”  Just as often, the note next to a recipe would say, “Not good.”  Or, as she was often quoted as saying aloud, “Not fit to eat.”

Another thing she saved was jokes.  We found tiny slips of paper with jokes jotted down in her handwriting.  One went like this:

“How do Eskimos have babies?  They just rub their noses together and the little boogers fall out.”

Obviously, growing up in the circumstances she did never diminished her sense of humor.  Grandmom was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.  I found a crocheted skunk that fit over a can of air freshener.  Pinned to the skunk was a slip of paper with these words in her handwriting:  “For a refreshing odor that never fails, press the button beneath my tail.”

Granddad told me that weekend to take anything I wanted.    I took his old World War Two foot locker, a stack of old family photos, and this antique wash stand.

Grandmom died in 2001, and that wash stand has been in my house in Atlanta ever since.  But that house is on the market, so I recently brought my wash stand to Florida with me.  And during the move, I found inside it an anniversary card she had purchased and given to my grandfather in 1996.  Written in it were these words:   “We have had 54 great years, and I love you even more than I did then.”

The message was written in ink.

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