This weekend I drove down to Alabama to take my 88-year-old grandmother out for a birthday dinner. She is my last remaining grandparent, and her birthday was earlier this fall. I have to say, when sitting down for a cup of coffee, there are few people on this earth I would rather drink coffee with than Tressie Carlean.
Whenever I go to visit my grandmother, we seem to follow a certain ritual. In the morning, she insists I go to Hardee’s to get us a biscuit and gravy. On the way home, I sneak to the McDonald’s across the street to get an Egg McMuffin and try to pretend it all came out of the same sack.
In the afternoon, we go shopping at T.J. Maxx. She pushes a buggy up and down the aisles marveling at how many purses they have, and I walk behind her, hoping we don’t knock anything over, and trying to avoid any embarrassing incidents like the time she told the entire store that I needed new underwear. She offers to buy me a skillet. This is a standing offer, one I can only guess originated from an era when a woman’s prowess was determined by how well she could fry something. In my grandmother’s mind, no granddaughter of hers was going out in the world armed without a proper skillet.
Then we go to eat at the Cracker Barrel at 4:00 in the afternoon. She comments on the crowd. She orders cornbread, then makes a face when I tell her I prefer biscuits.
Watching my grandmother at the Cracker Barrel is a thing to behold, as she butters everything at the table. She is, in fact, the only person I know who has been known to butter a saltine cracker.
When the waiter asks if we want any dessert, she politely tells him no…because we bought jellybeans. (This is true. We did buy jellybeans.) On our way out, she looks around the in front of the store for any stuffed animals that happen to sing and light up. (If she doesn’t see them, she flags down an employee to ask if they have any in the back.) Last spring she got a bunny who sings “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” in a child’s voice. The last time we were here, she got a hound dog named Whoopee who makes armpit sounds to the tune of “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” This has become my grandmother’s trademark in a way. I love my grandmother dearly, and I only hope when I’m 88 that I can remember my own name, much less be spry enough to go to Cracker Barrel and pick out singing animals.
She tells me she is looking for a decorative turkey for her dining room table, and we soon find a stuffed turkey that lights up and sings “Turkey in the Straw” while playing the banjo. I tuck it under my arm wordlessly and head for the cash register. “It will be your birthday present,” I tell her.
On the drive home, she tells me to slow down and watch for deer. She asks if there’s anything new in my life, and I tell her I started a blog.
She blinks. “What’s that?”
I tell her it’s like having your own website where you share your thoughts with other people.
“Well, how did you manage that?”
“Don’t you have to be on the….on the….”
…on the Internet? Yes.
Hmm…how do you explain social media to someone who grew up in a house without a telephone?
I tell her it’s like keeping an online journal for others to read, and she seems to understand. I tell her if we do anything exciting, it might wind up in my blog.
This perks her up considerably.
I say she looks good for her age, and asks her if she has any words of wisdom for my readers. Does she have any advice on staying spry?
“Well,” she says thoughtfully. “Every morning I try to keep my mind sharp by trying to remember the names of all the people I know.” She pauses. “And if that doesn’t work, I try to remember the names of the seven dwarves.”
And there you have it.
You can’t argue with the wisdom of the ages, folks.
Happy birthday Carlean, and many, many happy returns.