Grandmothers don’t always have to be kin

I opened the can and took a big breath through my nose. There was nothing quite like the smell of barbeque Charles Chips. I sure loved those chips as a boy; they were delivered like milk to the house and replenished into that metal can kept in the pantry. I took just one and placed it on my tongue and let the seasoning dissolve.
Then I took out a handful and placed them on my plate and on Millie’s plate beside the sandwiches with thinly cut beef, brown mustard, tomato and lettuce.
It was lunchtime and I was on a stay over with my adopted grandmother – Millie Dobbs.
Millie was our next-door neighbor when I was a youth. When I was about six, our neighbors the Bounds moved to Florida and to the initial disappointment in moved a family with no children – Fred and Peggy Gross and Peggy’s mother Millie.
I am sure in many respects especially early on; I became a Southern Dennis the Menace to the Grosses as they settled in to their new home. Despite the lack of someone my age to play with, I soon found myself the focus of Millie, a retired nurse from New York City. On a side note, she told me about assisting Marilyn Monroe on a hospital stay. In just a short period of time, we had both found our way into each other’s hearts.
Millie was what I would describe as puffy when I hugged her.
Since my folks had relocated to Atlanta for business, I was hours away from my grandparents, so it was wonderful having Millie in my life.
Often when Fred and Peggy went out of town, Millie would invite me to stay over. I would get to stay in the master bedroom suite. It was always an adventure. I remember on one of my earliest visits, I opened the wrong door by mistake and began a head over foot tumble into the basement. I didn’t get hurt though. I landed on my head. So if you wonder why I am still a bit off, that would be the reason. Actually, I limped away from the fall with a stumped toe.
Later I would learn the basement was Fred’s domain where he kept his model train and 78 rpm record collections. I seldom got the chance to see those things, although it was a treat when I was allowed.
Millie was an amateur artist who loved painting and making crafts with her hands, and she often brought me into what she was doing helping to teach me and giving me a try at it. She loved to play cards and she taught me as well – solitaire and gin rummy. We would often pass hours playing especially when my Uncle Waymond came to visit, Millie would always join our family for evenings of card and game playing.
Another one of her passions is still part of my life – mysteries – Agatha Christie among others.
Every few months, Millie would treat us both to a lunch out and we would walk a little more than a mile to Brannigan’s Irish Restaurant and have lunch. I would get this huge hamburger covered with mushrooms and everything imaginable.
As I grew and our family celebrated the milestones, Millie was there, birthdays, elementary graduation, Eagle Scout ceremony, and awards until one day, Fred, Peggy and Millie moved to Florida. I was in my teens by then and our connection remained via letters, cards, and holiday greetings.
One day mother received a call from Peggy to let us know that Millie had died. My initial impulse was to go and be there with them. That is after all what we did in our family, we gathered, sat up with the dead, ate a lot, remembered and cried as they were buried.
Peggy thanked me for the thought but there was no need for us to make the trip down. As best I recall Millie was cremated.
My adopted grandmother Millie was gone. My mom encouraged me to put away the things that she had shared with me, some paintings, needlepoint, an afghan, her letters, a handmade bell she had gotten from her friend Willie. So I did. You know I am still saving them, like I simply put Millie’s things away where I could keep my memory of her just the way it was.
I know that my childhood would not have been as full without the New York prospective that Millie brought to me – an appreciation of seeing more than what was just at my fingertips.
Millie gave me something no one else had before outside my family –  she taught me that unconditional love didn’t have to be born in blood. She became part of my family and shared time, encouragement, some of my greatest childhood moments, and an amazing love for life.

Fishing and the one that got away

Grandma Kitty pulled her shiny case knife from the pocket of her blue apron. She reached down far to the bottom of the cane pole and cut it.
“This will make a good one,” she said, as she handed it to a three-year-old me. Then she cut one for herself.
As we walked to her favorite spot along Frogleg Creek, I could not help but take a peak within the small metal pail she had given me to carry. I knew it would have something good for us to eat, like some chocolate pie or a piece of coconut cake.
I almost fell down when as I looked beneath the lid, only to have my hopes dashed by a bucket of dirt filled with red wigglers.
“Granny, what are we going to have to eat,” I said. “I thought this was our food.”
“It is food, but it is for the fishes,” she said.
“You will have to wait till we find some berries or maybe a plum tree,” she said.
“What are we going to do with these poles?” I said.
“I am going to tie some string on them and you and I are going to spend the morning fishing,” she said.
As we walked along the trail, I noticed a stick lying across the trail. I rushed ahead to pick it up.
“Hold your horses, boy,” she said, as she took her cane pole and popped on the back of what I thought was a stick. The stick slithered away like a bolt of lightening.
“That’s your first rule of being in the mountains, son — be careful where you put your hands,” she said. “We share this space with all kinds of critters. Some don’t care much for sharing.”
As we reached the spot along the banks of the creek, she said. “This is it.”
Conveniently, a huge oak log had fallen there. Upon it we sat.
“All you need to do is put one of the wigglers on the safety pin and drop your line in the water like this,” she said.
She handed me the pole. Then she fixed the other one, carefully attaching the string, safety pin and adding the worm.
As we sat there side by side with our poles in the water, I know I probably asked her a million questions about the leaves, the trees and the little green frog which hopped on my shoe.
She patiently answered every one. We sat there for what seemed like hours enjoying the mountain breeze which flowed over the Gravelly Spur and along the Frogleg Creek.
“Well, we better be getting back,” she said as she pulled her line out of the water.
Just as her pin touched the top of the cold waters, the biggest fish I ever saw jumped by her line.
“Granny, did you see that?” I said. “We can’t leave, we have not got that fish yet.”
“Yes, we did,” she said.
Close your eyes, “Can you see it?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then you will carry that fish with you everywhere you go,” she said.
“So we did catch a fish,” I said. “Today, we caught the biggest fish of all.”
“We caught something much better,” she said. “We caught each other.”
From Randall Franks’s book “A Mountain  Pearl.”