Last week, on March 17th, besides being St. Patrick’s Day, it was also the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. She has been gone since 2016. It’s hard to believe. My parents were leaving our house in Colorado and heading back to West Virginia that day. My mom mentioned that her mom had been gone six years now. I have no clue what it’s like to remember someone that close to you, your mom, knowing that all you have is memories.
My grandma was named Anna. Part of my name comes from hers. She was born in Southern West Virginia and grew up extremely poor. She eventually married and divorced, and remarried once more to a man who treated her like pure gold. My grandpa Fin or Grandpa Basham as I called him,didn’t have much more than a middle school education but he went on to own a successful chainsaw repair business. This business was located at the end of the road where they would live out their married years.
My grandma had five children, including my mom, who is the baby of the family. My grandma worked hard, she was a nutrition supervisor at a local hospital and she made sure her five children were fed and clothed, things she often did not have growing up herself.
My grandma had a hard life but the contrast from beginning to the end is so sweet. After she remarried, she ended up with the life she could never have on her own. She had a home, a car that she would sometimes drive but never pump gas in, a home with a large yard and a barn shed, a space where we had picnics in the summer and even grape vines growing nearby. It was a complete turn around from the life she knew before.
My grandmother was kind but she spoke her mind. She loved Diet Pepsi and sugar wafer cookies which she always offered to us when we visited. She had a piano we all loved to tinker around on when we were kids. (My own kids played that same piano.) My grandma drank instant coffee and smoked Dorals. She loved animals and always had a few stray cats around that she fed on her back porch. She gave out king size candy bars for Halloween (usually Zero bars) and always had kind things to say to her neighbors. She liked to go to yard sales and always carried change with her. She wasn’t afraid to bargain for a better “deal”. I remember her picking me up from school once when I was little because I was sick. I also remember spending the night with her a few times when I was in high school because her house was close to my school. She would make me buttered toast on white bread and it always tasted so good at her house.
My grandma would watch shows on a small television in her kitchen. Sometimes talk shows, sometimes soap operas or tv preachers. She had a small radio underneath her kitchen cabinets that I vividly recall playing Christmas music during our holiday dinners. She had one of the first CD players I can recall and her TV set back into a chest. It was like furniture, not like the TVs we have today. She loved to decorate her home and change things up often. She cleaned her house a lot, it seemed to me back then. She wore matching pant suits when she would go out and jogging suit sets at home. She always had her nails painted-usually a shade of pink. Her favorite place to eat was ironically, a cafeteria. She would eat at the K& W Cafeteria everyday if she could have.
She always served olives and cheese on a crystal tray during our holiday get togethers. Everyone would bring their dishes and pile them on the dining room table. My grandma would always ask my dad to say grace and then the women and girls set out tot fill their plates before the men and boys. (I remember the mixing of corn and mashed potatoes on al the kids’ plates.)
Over the years, I have accrued a few things from my grandma’s house. A desk and chair that my grandfather sat in to do the company book work and their personal bills. An old ceramic Christmas tree with plastic ornaments that I remember gazing at dreamily as a kid, now resides in my home during the holidays.
Of all the things I’ve been able to keep, two pictures mean the most to me. My grandma and Fin are laughing as someone took a picture of them playing around on a kid’s scooter (probably my sister’s). This picture reminds me not to take myself too seriously, that it’s ok to laugh even when things aren’t always easy. Then the photo of their home that was taken and painted in the early eighties. I remember this picture hanging in my grandma’s house, a reminder of how far she had come in her life, I’m sure. This reminds me of the people I come from and White Oak Street that I traveled so many times growing up.