Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Sticky Easter Memory

I’m sure, dear reader, you are familiar with the definition of sticky as it refers to candy. Did you know that there is now a cyberspace definition for sticky? It has to do with how well your site attracts traffic. Sticky sites have high volumes of traffic, especially the returning kind.

Has your mind ever returned to a memory due to a sound you’ve heard, a smell, or even a particular holiday? I guess we could call those memories “sticky” because we keep returning to them.

Yesterday morning as I awoke I remembered that it was Easter Sunday. My mind instantly returned to a memory that is sticky in more ways than one. My father’s family buried his grandmother on Easter Sunday. She was 102; I was 6. Every Easter I recall this day because Granny should be remembered, and I got myself into a sticky mess at her funeral.

Granny, as her family and community called her, was born immediately following the War of Northern Aggression (her point of view). In Sunday school yesterday a friend of mine remarked that as we grow older we tend to stop following fashion trends and settle for the decade where we are most comfortable. What an apt description of my great-grandmother. Picture the little old lady from the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons and you have my great-grandmother. She was outspoken and feisty. Granny usually ruled the roost. She wore wire spectacles, her hair in a braid or bun, long dresses and black lace-up shoes with a heel. Her “everyday” bonnet always hung on a rocker by the fireplace that to this day we still call Granny’s rocker. My children who of course never met Granny even call this revered chair “Granny’s” rocker. I have one of her bonnets in my classroom that I pull out when we talk about the settlement of the West.

By the time I came along Granny was well known in the community due to the large number of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren she had. Huge parties were given from her 90’s as well as her 100th, 101st, and finally her 102nd birthday where large numbers of friends and family would descend upon my grandfather’s small farmhouse. The local radio station, WCHK, broadcasted interviews with her and she would receive birthday greetings from the governor.

How my great-grandmother lived and how I live today is separated by a gulf of technology. She would find most of my life a huge waste of good energy and would most certainly let me know that in a very pointed way. I, on the other hand, would find the life she led extremely difficult. She spent most of her time ensuring her family had something to eat each day by growing it, harvesting it, or killing it-----sometimes with her bare hands.

Granny passed away at home quietly on Good Friday, 1968. They brought her home as was the custom for persons from that generation and placed the coffin in the front bedroom where she had died.

Knowing that there would be no room for us in my grandfather’s house my father rented a pop-up camper for us to sleep in. The whole event was quite an adventure from my viewpoint. I did, however, worry about the Easter Bunny and how he would find me in that camper.

When we arrived at my grandfather’s my father ushered my sister and I into the front bedroom to pay our respects. He was intent on us doing the right thing. The cannonball bed that Granny slept in had been dismantled and the coffin filled the room. The funeral home had placed two large floor lamps on either side of the casket. They cast a golden hue over the room. The flowers folks had sent, mainly carnations, emitted a sickly, sweet smell that I associate with death to this day.

Daddy stood behind my sister holding her in place as their respects were paid. Daddy’s actions spoke volumes even in my young mind. He was teaching us how to handle ourselves even in the midst of his own grief. My sister looked as if she wanted to bolt from the room the minute Daddy removed his hands, and she did. Daddy immediately turned to me and scooped me up into his arms. He swung me up and over Granny’s coffin. I can close my eyes right now and experience that light-headed feeling as I went up into the air. My excitement turned to curiosity mixed with fear as my legs dangled over my great-grandmother’s body. I wondered if Daddy was going to drop me onto Granny’s body. I looked down and examined Granny’s serene form. She’s sleeping----just sleeping I remember thinking.

The next morning I discovered the Easter Bunny did know where I was. My over flowing basket was lying next to me when I woke up. I began my breakfast with assorted marshmallow eggs (the kind with the white fluff inside) and the ears from my chocolate bunny.

I rode to the funeral with my Aunt Boofy------yes, I know…one of those horribly strange family nicknames that no one ever thinks to ask about its origin until everyone that knows is gone. The funeral would be a country affair with several preachers, lots of hymn singing, and no air conditioning. It might have been Spring but it was h-o-t----hot. I was dressed as any six year old young lady would have been at the time---lots of chiffon, lacy, scratchy petticoats and underwear and white anklet socks with layer upon layer of lace. My white patent Maryjanes squeaked when I rubbed them together, so I did it often just to annoy my elders.

As we traveled down the road Aunt Boofy handed everyone in the car a couple of sticks of Juicy Fruit gum. Under normal circumstances gum would have been an appropriate thing to do but not when one has been indulging in Easter eggs and chocolate all morning. The combination was simply bad chemistry in my mouth. The gum immediately turned into a slimy substance with bits of crystallized sugar from the colored covering of the candy eggs. The gum still hung together but it was incredibly sticky and gooey. I certainly didn’t want it in my mouth so I simply did what any six year old would do….I took it out and held it. I reasoned that I would throw it away once I got to the church.

Upon arriving we waited forever out in the hot sun for everyone else to assemble. Then we had to wait on the pall bearers to form ranks and carry Granny into the church. By this time the gum had morphed itself into super glue. Not wanting my Mom to see it I pressed my hands together and intertwined my fingers together.

As we walked into the church everyone was commenting to Mom how cute I looked. One cousin remarked I sure did look sweet with my hands all folded like I was ready to commence prayer.

Once we were seated I attempted to get my hands apart. They wouldn’t budge. I tried and tried through three songs and two of the preachers. The mourners began filing past the open casket before it closed for all time and Mom and I watched as everyone left their pews and filed around by the casket and back up the aisle to their seats. My grandfather lingered the longest hovering over the casket saying things I could not hear. I was so mesmerized I momentarily forgot my hands were cemented together. Pa’s body shook with heavy sobs. It is definitely a pivotal moment in someone’s life when you see a security figure, a larger than life figure, collapse into a heaving, sobbing mess. It dawned on me at that moment that my grandfather was crying over his mother. He had a mommie----just like me. I began to cry. Have you ever tried to wipe tears away when your hands are cemented together?

Pa eventually sat down and it was getting closer and closer to mine and Mom’s time to go up. My thoughts turned back to my hands. I repeatedly tried to pry them apart, but they would only budge an inch or so. My thoughts were so intent on getting them apart that I forgot Mom was sitting right next to me. She glanced down to pinch me into stillness and saw my hands. Her gasp was so loud that the folks in front of us turned around. Mom was so embarrassed and flustered. She motioned for the rest of the pew to file out around us while we just sat. The longer that funeral went on the madder Mom got. She was so upset with me that she drug me to her car and took me straight back to my grandfather’s without going to the burial leaving the rest of the family to wonder what was wrong.

The rest of my Easter Sunday was spent with my hands alternately submerged in ice water or held out to my mom. She rubbed and scrubbed my hands until they both were raw.

Needless to say my Aunt Boofy never gave me a piece of gum or candy again. However, my Aunt Rachel did give me a Kentucky Fried chicken leg one time, but that’s another sticky memory entirely.


TAP teacher said...

I love it! What a wonderful writer you are. UMMM...I predict you will have a book out in your lifetime. If you're not planning it, you should. This story of your great-grandmother's funeral experience was so well written, and the way you linked it to being
sticky was wonderfully unique. Maybe you should be teaching English Language Arts...??? and share your talent of writing with young writers.

EHT said...

My head is swelling as I type this. Thank you for the complement. My husband hated the ending...he said it was too abrupt. Maybe but not if I have a follow up chicken leg story---there really is one.

TAP teacher said...

By all means write it!! You really have a gift for writing. I have many rich memories that I know would be interesting if only I could learn to write as well as you do.
Your story brought back so many of my childhood memories...the itchy clothes for Sunday...waiting in the hot sun at church for others to arrive and arrange themselves for the funeral...and other things you mentioned. I had to share this Easter memory of yours with my 5 children. We all love reading and sharing memories. We love linking to our family history and to our national history.
Keep up the good writing. It is documenting our place in this world at this time.
P.S. I read you philosphy about teaching history. I definitely agree with it.

Anonymous said...

I am just getting here from your top 10 favorites post.

This is the funniest thing I have read in a long time. Great story.

So what's the chicken leg story?