© 2024. Randolph Hub. All Rights Reserved.


Me and Willard and Grandma

EDITOR’S NOTE: In lieu of Warren’s normal column, here is a contest entry he wrote for an area writing contest that could have netted him a cool $25 if he won. But the club ran out of money, so here we are. Asked if he had any photos of his grandmother to run with this column, he replied, “Nobody had a camera. Just fond memories.” Nonetheless, we think you’ll enjoy this piece as much as two of his columns, which would be appropriate, because it’s about twice as long as one of his columns. Let him know what you think. With enough kind words, it could feel about the same as getting $25.


Everyone seemed to think it was a swell idea to travel down to Carolina Beach and watch Hurricane Hazel roll into North Carolina. Anyway, that’s what my parents and my cousin Willard’s parents did on that fateful day in 1954. Of course, they were never heard from again. Even their brand new 1953 Chevrolet Bel Aire disappeared. 


Grandma always held out hope that they were alive, especially since we were sent to live with her after their untimely demise. 


“I’m sure they are living it up somewhere in Florida without you two pests,” she was often heard to say.


At first it was uncertain who we were to live with. No one ever found a will, although Uncle Don almost destroyed two houses looking for one.  We had lots of aunts and uncles who could have taken us in, or like Aunt Edna said, the courts could have handled it. 


Lots of relatives would have taken us, had they not had commitments and such. Aunt Flo and Uncle Oscar said they had a cat who wouldn’t take to strangers, even though we were close kin — well, not to the cat, but to them. Uncle Roscoe said he had obligations, including attending American Legion meetings, and he couldn’t be burdened with two miscreants. We didn’t know what miscreants meant, but we figured it was another word for orphans, because that’s what we were. Uncle Ray said he had phlebitis and could hardly look after himself.  Mom’s sister May Belle said she would love to take us in but that she was highly allergic to pre-teenagers and, besides, she might move out of state at any time. 


Everyone seemed to agree, even the more disagreeable ones, that it would be good for Grandma to take us in.  Well except Grandma. They all said it was logical. She lived by herself, had a farm to look after, was in delicate medical health and could go any time. She needed someone to live with her and take care of her, someone who could call for the coroner when she did go. So that’s basically how we came to live with Grandma.


Willard and I didn’t exactly buy into the theory that Grandma “could go anytime.” Maybe they meant go play bingo at anytime or go off the road any time in her 1948 Ford or go to every funeral in three counties. But as far as going, Grandma could out-go all of us.


So, after a nice memorial service for Mom and Dad and Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary, we settled in at Grandma’s. 


That’s when we learned of Grandma’s sciatica. We figured that the sciatica was the reason our family had said Grandma could go any time. It was such a deadly disease that Grandma was nearly forced beyond her rational control to take a sip of medicinal wine occasionally. She had learned of the benefits of wine by reading medical advice from a number of magazines, particularly True Confessions. She said she was also obligated to take a little snuff now and then to calm her nerves and a sip of bourbon when she felt an oncoming cold. But wine was her main regimen of choice. 


Grandma was also a staunch Baptist, which she said did not in any way deter her from taking her medicine, since Jesus had favored wine Himself. Willard and I figured that perhaps Jesus had the sciatica. That would be reasonable and, anyway, Grandma said water was a poor drink without something to go with it. 


The Baptists will flat wear you out. There’s Sunday morning service, of course, but there’s also Sunday School, Sunday night service, Wednesday night prayer meeting, R.A.’s, Boy Scouts, Training Union, Vacation Bible School, dinners on the grounds, funerals, memorial services, reunions, homecomings and revivals. Willard and I thought that it was no wonder, after all that, that everyone needed reviving. 


Grandma was such a strong Baptist that she rarely took any medicinal wine on Sundays, even when she was in debilitating pain.


Besides bingo, one of Grandma’s favorite hobbies was attending funerals. She dragged us along with her with the feeble excuse that we couldn’t be trusted to be left alone with the cookies and cakes she kept hidden in the closet. 


If there was anything Grandma was good at, it was funeralizing. She read the obituaries religiously first thing in the morning. It was of minor consequence that she didn’t know the recently deceased. If they were at the local funeral home, she said, they deserved her attendance. It was, she said, her civic duty.


It was quite a social event if Grandma did know the deceased. The line at the viewing could snake around through the funeral home and out into the yard, but Grandma would hold her position at the front of line like 300 Spartans. 


“Just what did Flo expire of?” she’d ask the survivors. “Been sick long? Was she still dating that old man Russell? Is her sister still alive? Why isn’t she here? What’s to become of her car? Is that dress new? Never saw her wear that one. Is there anything I can do? Well, let me know if there is.”


Once she leaned over through the kin folks lining the casket to note that Marie Bascomb would never have worn the shade of lipstick the coroner had painted on her lips. 


“If I had my makeup remover in my purse I’d wipe that stuff right off,” she mumbled, no doubt making a mental note to bring makeup remover to the next viewing.


Grandma found that most of the deceased “looked mighty natural,” even the ones she didn’t know. There were a few, like Ms. Bascomb, that she found fault with, but mostly she approved. She was not pleased, however, if the casket was not open. Sometimes she had been known to tap on the casket with her cane and ask to no one in particular, “Why isn’t this open?”


Grandma was especially fond of lunches that occurred after a funeral. 


“They have so much food,” she told us, “that it’s a shame for it all to go to waste.” She said that was the main reason she asked for plates to go afterwards. 


“They appreciate not having all that food left over.”


If anyone ever asked Willard and me who we were and how we were connected to the family of the deceased, Grandma advised us to mumble. 


“Just say ‘Fern’s children’ if anyone asks,” she told us. “They’ll be too embarrassed to ask who Fern is.”


Of course, not all was fun and games with Grandma. We still had to go to school. We caught the school bus on the corner where two dirt roads intersected just past the house. Grandma insisted we go even though she was dubious of the benefits of higher education. 


“They don’t even teach you how to skin a squirrel or kill a hog or even to can green beans,” she fumed. But she still forced us to go anyway. Willard thought it was something to do with exercise since she was overheard saying “At least it gets you out of my house for awhile.”


Grandma was resourceful. When Willard fell out of the barn loft and broke his finger, she tied a fork to it so the break could heal. This way he could still eat. Grandma said that if he’d cut off his finger or maybe his hand, she would have been forced to take him into town to the doctor. Other than amputations, though, Vicks VapoRub or kerosene usually worked well.


On weekends, after our chores were done, we had the run of the countryside. Grandma would tell us to stay within sight of the house and as soon as she stepped back inside, we’d disappear. We once planned on taking a raft down Rocky River until we figured that since it was only six inches deep, we probably wouldn’t get far. There were other factors that kept us from traveling far. The three most terrorizing things in our lives were Gypsies, mad dogs and quicksand. And Trolls. We didn’t cross a bridge without thinking about Trolls. 


We’d theorize at night what course of action to take. Let’s say Gypsies were chasing us. Would we brave mad dogs to escape? Or quicksand? Living with the Gypsies might not be so bad, but mad dogs and quicksand would mean a sudden end to our young lives. But we might chance a mad dog or two to escape the Trolls. 


Time went fast at Grandma’s and October turned into November and still no word of our parents. Grandma was mighty sad on that first Thanksgiving after our parents disappeared into the surf at Carolina Beach.


“I still can’t believe they took that brand new Chevy down there,” she’d moan. “I could have used a better car.”


Thanksgiving was one of Grandma’s favorite holidays and she enjoyed telling us the Thanksgiving story every year. The Pilgrims, she said, had squandered all their provisions and were in pretty bad shape, especially since Thanksgiving was coming and their families were coming to eat. The Indians pretty much saved the Pilgrims, bringing squash casseroles and green pea salads and turkey and dressing. Grandma said the Indians never called it stuffing. Some of the Indians even thought to bring a can of cranberry sauce and a pecan pie. And when everyone finished eating, the Indians let them sleep in front of their TV set while they cleaned up the kitchen. The Pilgrims were so thankful that they waited a few years before wiping out the entire Indian nation, well, except for the ones you see on TV. 


Grandma had just finished her story, lined the inside of her lip with some Tube Rose and leaned back in her easy chair when we heard a car coming up the road. There was always a lot of excitement when a car passed by and we all usually leaped out onto the porch to watch. An airplane flying over would empty the house and find everyone out in the yard squinching their eyes trying to catch a glimpse of it. But a car was almost as good.


We all bounded outside when, lo and behold, the car pulled into the driveway. Grandma was just about to go back inside for her shotgun when we recognized the occupants. It was Willard’s parents in the front seat and mine in the back.


“I knew they went to Florida,” fumed Grandma. We all hugged and cried and hugged some more. I noticed that Grandma had already gathered our belongings on the porch.


It seemed, after all the reuniting was over, that our parents had not gone to Carolina Beach after all. The Highway Patrol had re-routed them away from U.S. 421, so Willard’s dad decided to head for the Outer Banks. After that, the story got a little sketchy. The hurricane had stranded them somewhere near Ocracoke and communications being down, plus ferries and bridges being destroyed, they’d had to live with locals until things could be rebuilt and they could find their way home.


Grandma always thought this story was slightly suspicious, but then my Dad said she’d always had a skeptical nature about her. She seemed genuinely sad to see us go, though, because she disappeared inside the house and shut the door before we got out of the driveway. Couldn’t bear to see us leave, Willard surmised.


Warren Dixon lives in Liberty with his wife, Sandra. Contact him through his Facebook page.