My Grandmother – Tight Hugs and Unconditional Love
article by Cindy G. Foust
My heart is heavy this month, Readers, heavier than it has been in some time. Since I share many of my life’s experiences with the readers of this column, this month will be no exception. And because this month’s issue will feature some gardening stories, I feel it is very appropriate to let our readers know that the world lost a “master gardener” last week. No, she didn’t have the notoriety of Martha Stewart or John Abercrombie (I confess, I had to look him up), but she was a master ,nonetheless. Yes, my world got considerably dimmer last Friday when my family’s beloved master gardener, and my grandmother, Willie “Bitsy” Tarver Boles, passed away peacefully and lovingly surrounded by her family.
I’ve written often of my “Mawmaw” in this column and shared some of the insights she has imparted to me through the years (okay, not her dumpling recipe, that stays in the family), but regrettably, I’ve never graced the pages of this column with a full tribute to her. This month, however, it seemed fitting to write this column about her, but with my adult readers in mind, rather than our BayouLife children. Why? Because I think her legacy and a few tales from the “Ollie Caples Hill” might strike a cord with our “grown-up” followers…tales I think might even make some of you “pause for the cause,” the way I have this past week and perhaps, “stop to smell the roses,” even if it’s just a short stop.
As I sat on the swing in her backyard earlier this week, staring at the back of her cherished home, humble in stature, but abundant in the things that matter most…tight hugs, unconditional love and loving hands…you know, the ones who make you homemade french fries, or turns your electric blanket on an hour before you go to bed, I was overwhelmed with pride. Sadness, yes, at the loss of her life, but also pride. You know, that prideful feeling you get every time you hear the “Star Spangled Banner,” or when they hand you your newborn baby for the first time? The same pride that gives you a lump in your throat so big, that you might choke when you swallow and when the tears sting the back of your eyes? Okay, we are on the same page now. We’ve all experienced it…and these are the moments in our lives, probably infrequent in nature, but significant in the sense that they change the way you look at life.
I was surprised, I think, initially, when these feelings began to infiltrate the “feeling sorry for myself” moment I was trying to have. But as I sat there and reflected on my grandmother’s life, it occurred to me, quite simply, that in this mixed-up, crazy world we live in, she at least, got it right. My grandmother lived through the Great Depression, which defines a generation with that simple label, “I lived through the Great Depression.” She didn’t need and more importantly, want for the material things of this world…big fancy homes, expensive cars or large trust funds. No, she didn’t travel or shop or lunch…but she lived. As those two words “she lived” rolled over my decrepit thoughts, the pride I began to feel made my chest start to swell. Why? Because “Bitsy” lived her life her way, at her pace, regardless of what was going on around her…and when you live 90 years, trust me, the entire world revolutionizes in front of you. It did not, however, change the pace that she chose to run her race. Her race, you see, was filled with the things that made her the happy…her family, particularly her grandchildren, her garden, her table (which for years was always full of wonderful, home cooked meals), her fishing, and caring for her home. Her race was also filled with encouraging words, hugs that took your breath and prayers…prayers so heartfelt and sincere for this writer, when I was so broken from my own loss, that I couldn’t see to get out of bed. She lived with a sense of humor that often evoked a belly laugh that rivaled the illustrious sound of the Boston Symphony. She lived with an honest tongue, careful never to hurt anyone’s feelings, but sharp and candid, even if you didn’t like her answer to whether the pants you were wearing made you look fat. She lived with hard work…at 90 years old, a month before she died, she was still mowing her own yard and balancing her own checkbook (incidentally, she was also a master John Deere riding mower driver, even when we begged to buy her a golf cart, she would not hear of it.) She never stopped working hard, even in the winter of her life, whether she was gardening, canning, cooking or chopping firewood. You heard me right…a few years ago when a tree fell into her garden, my sister and brother-in-law stopped in to see her, and lo and behold, she had her chainsaw, cutting the tree into smaller pieces, so she could move them herself. Can you say Paul Bunyon? Never one to want to be a burden to anyone, she also lived with a streak of independence that frustrated her family many times but also fascinated us that she refused to sit in her “chair” and be waited on. (I tell you what, if I live to be 90, my kids better be stopping by for dominoes everyday and bringing me a hot plate lunch.) Finally, and I think this one has really resonated with me, she lived within her means. If she didn’t need it, she didn’t buy it. It didn’t matter that she might want it, it was wasteful and unnecessary. How profound. As a matter a fact, many years ago, my grandfather came home, tired and beat down from the hours he was working and made the comment that he just wished he had the money to pay their house off, so he could slow down.
In true “Willie” form, she pulled a Folger’s coffee can from the pantry and shelled out the money he needed to pay the house off. I never tire of hearing that story. Or any story she is a part of for that matter, because for someone who lived through the revolution of this great country and witnessed everything from presidential assassinations, landing on the moon, the invention of television and radio, automobiles, airplanes, war, oppression, segregation, computers and technology and I can’t leave out, Facebook (she loved to ask my sister what people were posting on Facebook), she is a vital part of the fabric of the rich, history of this country. And I am blessed, and proud, that she was my grandmother.
So what can we derive from this life well lived? I think much can be gleaned from her life, perhaps not a glamorous one with diplomas lining the halls of her home, or famous in the sense of being a movie star, although, she had the face of 1940’s movie actress (and was quoted as saying that God cursed her “with good looks and being a worrier.”) At the very least, stopping to smell the roses or the coffee (she loved very much to sit and enjoy a good cup, at any time of the day); making time for laughter, everyday, despite the circumstances in your life, because you still have a good life; loving your God, your family and your country, with all of your heart; cherishing your children and your grandchildren, because life can be cruel and fleeting, and these are the precious gifts that matter; and above all, cut yourself some slack if you don’t make as much money as the neighbors down the street. My grandmother left this world with the same thing she came into it with, and she was the happiest person I know. She remarked often, after we were told she was sick, that she had been blessed with a peaceful, happy life. Sigh. That’s what I want for my family, to be at peace and to be happy. We all have circumstances that seem bigger than we are sometimes, but usually, things work out, somehow, someway, and life goes on. Our race continues. And contrary to what me may think, there are people watching how we handle those circumstances, whether it be our children, a co-worker or a stranger, and it creates an opportunity to leave an impression. My grandmother left her impression on my life, on my soul, and thankfully, she was blessed with an abundance of years to do so. She also carefully guarded the impression she made on others, and felt a responsibility to show character and grace in most of the situations she faced in her life. And in doing so, she found the time to live…to laugh…to love. It’s a legacy I will cherish and spend the rest of my life trying to emulate. And I hope, in some small way, it finds a way to penetrate the busy lives of our readers. Thank you for letting me share her life, her legacy and her race. It is my upmost privilege to do so.