My grandmother practically ran rather than walked when she moved her 5-foot frame: anxious to get to the next place. She seemed smaller than she was, because, as a youngster raised on the Osage Indian reserve, she contracted tuberculosis.
She has a wicked scar bisecting her torso where they removed one lung, and as a result, one shoulder slumped inward and she tilted to one side. Although TB killed loads of American Indians, my grandmother survived.
Mary Grove lived in the heady days of Osage wealth, when tribal members cashed the benefits of oil discovered on the land they purchased from the Kiowa during the removal of Native Americans to Oklahoma. The Osages were lucky: they had the foresight to negotiate rights to the minerals on the land, and my grandmother’s family was among those that received quarterly payments.
My grandmother and her sister cashed their checks and signed up for a world cruise, where they met the Barnes brothers, married them, and started families. My grandparents moved the family from town to town, living on Granny’s Osage payments and drinking to pass the time. Cooking and cleaning often fell to my mother, who took care of her brothers and sisters while the parents partied.
When I was little, growing up in Southern California, Granny would come to stay for weeks at a time, sharing my room. Such times were dedicated to sobriety, with my grandfather struggling through AA and my grandmother sequestered at our house in an attempt to break the drinking cycle.
She would read to me, tell stories of growing up, and, from time to time, sneak a swig of vodka she hid under her pillow. Granny loved jokes but could hardly tell one: she would chuckle so hard in the telling that she couldn’t pull enough air from one lung to talk, breathe and laugh. And she found humor in just about anything.
My fondest memories come from simply hanging out together. It’s not about any words of wisdom you’d carve on a headstone: it’s the snippets like her laughter and her hurried, tilted gate. She taught me how to poach an egg and showed me how to crochet with yarn. And how to find the humor in just about anything.
Happy Mother’s Day.