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Since I was a small girl, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday.  When I was little, Gramma would pull up a chair for me to stand in and let me help her cook. I learned to make a lot of dishes that way, but Thanksgiving was special. After helping her “prepare” dinner, we would make place mates or name cards for the family coming to eat.   Soon, my aunt and uncle would show up with my cousins and we’d be ushered to the yard to play until dinner time if it wasn’t too cold.  If it was too cold, we would go play in our bedroom.  My sister and cousins and I would create all sorts of games and scenarios to keep us busy. Sometimes, we’d talk my uncle in to playing with us because he would rough house and toss us around.  My mom may or may not show up, but when I was little, most of the time she found her way home for holiday meals.

I always liked it when my gramma and her daughters (my mom and aunt) were together because they’d start telling stories about people they used to know and old memories.  It was one of the few times I would be still and quiet so they wouldn’t notice me, and I could eavesdrop on them.  We would eat so much that I always joked about wearing sweatpants on that day.  That night, sometimes Kelli’s friend would come over and we’d eat leftovers and goof off. Friday, we ALWAYS ate turkey clubs and chips, made the RIGHT way, according to her, with 3 slices of toast.

Gramma died right before the holidays and it was heart-wrenching for me.  She loved the holidays as much as I did. She loved cooking for everyone and having all of us at the house. The year before she died, she became obsessed with Thanksgiving dinner, the actual meal.  We had several turkeys in the freezer, and periodically throughout that year, she would want to cook a Thanksgiving feast, with all the fixings and trimmings, invite family over and be together.  It was exhausting, but she knew her time left with us was limited, and she wanted to make the most of it.  So I obliged her.  I got up at the crack of dawn (because Thanksgiving meals were ALWAYS at 1:00 p.m., as well as most holiday or Sunday dinners), get the turkey prepped and in the oven for her.  I only started with the really intensive help after she broke several glass pie plates and baking dishes getting a baking dish out for a casserole.  She would do the lighter stuff: peel potatoes, mash them after they were cooked, prepare the sweet potato casserole, etc. I handled the stuffing, the turkey, most of the other veggies, the bread and the actual being in the kitchen.  We got her an extra-long oxygen tube so she could get to the kitchen and still be able to breathe, but it was still exhausting for her.

I grumbled about it to friends and some family, but never to her.  I knew it was important to her.  Now, 7 years later, I am thankful that she and I had that time together and that I was able to make her happy.   Now, I am married and my husband and I got married a week after Thanksgiving.  We are starting our own family traditions and ways of doing things. I hope one day, if we’re blessed enough to have any children, that I can make holidays fun and memorable for them.  We are starting this year by taking our first holiday trip, a tradition I hope to continue one day.

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Known

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I was just looking at my cat, Gus, thinking, “I have known you all but 3 weeks of your little kitty cat life”.  That got me thinking, about who I have known all of their lives, from the minute they were born.  Then I started thinking about who has known me since I was born. At this point, the only person who has known me all the years I was alive during their life time was my gramma. We lived together the first 18 years; I went to college and came home to live with her for the next 18.  Even in college or when I was out of town, there wasn’t a full week that went by that we didn’t at least talk on the phone.  I can’t say that about anyone else.  I have known my niece and nephew since they were born, my cousins, my sister, but there have been gaps in the times I have been in communication with them. 

This isn’t the first time, that I have gotten teary-eyed thinking that the person I loved the most on the planet isn’t here.  The person who drove me crazy, made me laugh, encouraged me, scolded me is gone. The one person who was always there.  If you have a one person who is always there, don’t lose that.  My cousin can say that about her children.  She is always there for them.  She knows what’s going on in their lives.  She loves them unconditionally.

I know lots of people who are close to their parents and talk weekly, monthly, daily.  I know that my friends and others might think I “wasted” my youth living with Gramma, caring for her, dealing with her when others couldn’t and wouldn’t. I have never felt that way.  I have never regretted keeping her with me until literally the minute she died.  It is the thing I am proudest of, and not to toot my own horn, but I have plenty to be proud of, but this is it for me. 

She would have been 83 this year, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I do think about her daily.  More days than not it’s to laugh about something silly she did or said.  Sometimes, I see an older lady in a grocery store, drug store, restaurant, sitting at a bus stop, and I suck in my breath because they strike a resemblance or dig up a lost memory. I have gotten past the crying every time I talk about her stage of grieving, but holidays are still not as fun as they once were, and her birthday is no exception.  We always celebrated our birthdays big in my family.  For her 75th birthday, I called all over town to find a florist who would deliver 75 gladiolas to her.  Most just didn’t have that many, but one older woman was so touched by it, that she tracked down 75 for me and delivered them all.  When I got home, Gramma said, “Well, I guess I know what my funeral will be like”.  She loved them, but a morbid sense of humor is a family trait.

She loved cardinals as well.  Whenever I see one, I take that as a greeting from her, a little, “You’ll be fine”. So, tomorrow or any other day if you see a cardinal, just know that I’ll be fine. 

 

 

 

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I am going to tell you now, if you fall, I will laugh at you. It’s a family trait.  When I was in college in Charleston, I laughed constantly.  For those of you who don’t know, the entire campus, and much of downtown is paved with bricks, which settle unevenly all the time.  People, including me and my friends, were constantly tripping, and yes falling.  Yes, I DID LAUGH.  It is unavoidable.

When I was younger, my gramma (THE HOBB) worked at the hospital in the canteen, she was the general manager, so whenever anything came up, she had to be there.  I spent late nights sleeping in booths because she had to be there when janitorial stripped and re-waxed the floors.  I went there every single day after school.  Everyone knew me because I was so NOT shy even as a kid.  Well, this one winter when I  was about 8, there was a rare snow/ice storm in Columbia. THE HOBB had to be at the hospital canteen because some of her workers couldn’t be there.  So, since school was canceled, my little sister  and I had to go with her.

Did I mention that we didn’t have a car when I was growing up?  We took the city bus everywhere. Well, on the way TO the hospital, the buses were running, but by the time we could leave, they were not.  We didn’t really live that far from the hospital – a little over a mile.  So, THE HOBB wanted to keep us as dry as possible for our walk home in snow/ice storm.  We had our normal coats, hats, mittens, boots (it was the 70s – boots were “in”) and scarves on.  THE HOBB decides to make us put a giant trash bag over our  clothes to keep us even drier. So, she puts the bags over us, and pokes holes in for our heads and arms.  She then puts her bag on as well.

We begin our trek from Richland Memorial Hospital to our little house behind Earlwood Park.   We get under the overpass, and we are right across the street from the drive in movie theater. If you grew up here you know.   It is now some abandoned warehouse, but was also a SAMS  Club.  OK, so across from the movie theater, but before the train tracks – THE HOBB slides on the slippery ice and down she goes.  She is in this giant trash bag and is just sliding along this decline, and I start laughing uncontrollably.  I can NOT help it.  I am just  laughing so hard I am crying.  My sister is getting so angry with me because THE HOBB has fallen. we sort of run/slide up to her and start helping her up. She is laughing, too.  It was quite possibly one of the funniest moments of my life with gramma. I still get giggly just thinking about it. She wasn’t an old grandmother, probably 46 at that time, maybe 47.

We made it home without any other incidents or accidents.  We laughed about that for the rest of her life.  We would jokingly suggest giant trash bags  when it was snowing, etc.  It became part of the fabric of our story.

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Like so many other people across the eons, Music has been a huge part of my development into the adult I am.  As a small child, every Saturday morning, after breakfast, Grandma put the stack of LPs on that big stereo that was a piece of furniture.  Some of you remember them, wooden, long, almost like a side board for the living room. Her tastes were as eclectic as mine are today.  The selection would include, Ray Charles, The Statler Brothers, Tammy Wynette, Elvis, George Jones, The Temptations, Liberace, Slim Whitman, some polka album she loved, etc.  I think to this day, Grandma is the reason I can’t clean without music pouring out of the house.  Obviously as I grew older, I began to make my own musical decisions. Grandma never, ever censored what we listened to, watched on television, movies we saw.  She would explain to us anything we had questions about.  Along with Grandma, I had my aunt, my mom and my best friend’s sister as musical influences.  They all listened to such variety. Between all of them, and the radio and my friends, I learned to love The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, KISS, Aerosmith, AC/DC. Loretta Lynn.  It runs the gambit.

As a small, small girl,  like 4 and 5, my favorite singers were Charlie Rich and Tom T. Hall. Charlie Rich was my all-time favorite.  “The Most Beautiful Girl” and “Behind Closed Doors” were always played for me at my request.  Of course, I had NO idea what “Behind Closed Doors” was really about, but I loved The Silver Fox, and so it didn’t really matter. We weren’t really allowed to park in front of the TV too much with Grandma, but we did get to watch Hee Haw. I can remember see Charlie perform on there.Tom T. Hall had an album “Tom T. Hall Sings for Kids”.  It had those songs “I Love” and “Sneaky Snake” on it. Grandma would play that album for me all the time.  It often made it in the Saturday morning stack.

Obviously by middle and high school, I had been exposed to hundreds of songs and bands. I have always had a different drummer to march to, so as much as liking mainstream music, I often went against the grain, and there ain’t no shame in my game.  Yes, I love bands like N*Sync and performers like Nelly, but I also like the Violent Femmes, The Clash, KISS, Metallica etc.

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Of all the music I have been exposed to, bought, downloaded, seen live, loved and hated, it’s almost impossible to pick out favorites because songs mean different things to you at different times, and sometimes, it’s just music for fun.  In March of 1987, I turned 18. That year, I had come to love Beastie Boys, much to the disdain of my best friends, until I just forced them to listen so often they caved in to the awesomeness.  There weren’t many preppy white kids at Dreher loving hip hop and rap, but I grew up in a multicultural neighborhood and was around black kids and white kids alike, so as my black friends were discovering rap and hip hop, I went along for the ride.  Beastie Boys “License to Ill” is still one of my top ten albums of all time.  But it wasn’t Mike D or Jam Master J who was invading my brain, heart, soul, bones.  It was as band I had been listening to for years, thanks to WUSC and MTV’s 120 minutes. That March, Bono, The Edge, Larry, and Adam moved in to my being, and never left. My best friend bought me the cassette “The Joshua Tree” for my birthday, and I was done.  From the first listen to that album, every song resonated with me in some way.  Even now, some songs can get me choked up, make me want to dance, laugh, get angry.  “With or Without You” got me through a broken teenaged heart. “Trip Through Your Wires” helped me realize yes, broken hearts are survivable. “Where the Streets Have No Name” made me want to explore my own small world and stretch it like a canvas.  I have owned dozens of copies of the cassette and CD because I have played the different  copies so often, they’ve needed to be replaced.  I will never change the radio station if one the songs on this album comes on.  I have heard Bono sing those songs to me in person, knowing that he IS singing them just for me while The Edge mesmerizes me with his guitar.

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The only other album that has come close to this level of intense connection for me is Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten.  I obtained a promo copy of this album from my friend and neighbor in college, Rob.  He wanted some sweatshirt I had, so we bartered.  I gave him a lime green champion sweatshirt for the CD that revolutionized my senior year in college. from the first note that came out of my shitty stereo, I fell in love.  Head over Heels in love.  Those grunge boys had nothing on Kurt and his crew, as far as I was concerned.  I loved Nirvana, but I absorbed Pearl Jam.  Again, another album that ANY song can take me back to that senior year.  My college boyfriend broke up with me and pulverized my heart that spring.  “Black”, “Oceans”, “Why Go” and “Alive” nursed me back to some semblance of sanity so that I was able to survive that once in a life time event, the moment your first love breaks your heart and leaves you stunned.  I could be angry and rock out “Evenflow”, “Porch” or “Deep” and just be loud and crunchy – Oh stone and Mike with those guitars.

No two albums will ever replace these as the albums that shaped my life and attitudes about so much.  I often wish my life was “The Kentucky Fried Movie” so I could have my own personal soundtrack as I moved from highs to lows, successes and defeats, boredom and excitement.  These albums would have a starring role.

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Growing up, we were pretty poor.  I didn’t really notice it so much because Grandma always made sure we had great Christmases and Birthdays.  I did know we didn’t have a car, but I just chalked it up to “Grandma doesn’t like to drive”.  She was a child of The Depression, a woman of a young marriage and divorce, two unruly, heathen children and as a result had learned to be crafty in her solutions to tricky situations.

When I was a little kid, several factors left me and my little sister unsupervised from about 2:30 to 4:30.  When I was ten, we moved from the Earlwood Park Area to the Melrose Heights area. We continued to go to McCants Elementary School (the best school I ever attended) because I wanted to finish up there.  It went to 6th grade and I was at the end of my 5th grade year.  We would get up before early and take a city bus downtown, transfer and then take another bus to McCants.  After school, we would need to repeat the process.  Mind you, this was in 1979, and the gentrification of the Heights hadn’t begun yet.  We lived on the last block of King Street, right down from many drug dealers and bootleggers.

Grandma didn’t really want us going home alone, and she certainly couldn’t afford someone to watch us. As a result of all these circumstances, Kelli and I took the bus downtown, but instead of transferring to the next bus, we went to Richland County Public LIbrary on the corner of Sumter and Washington streets. That was my day care center.  I knew every inch of that library.  I would wander around the art section on the second floor near the Children’s Room.  When I was tired of that, I would go look through thousands of albums.  I wandered from floor to floor, following Dewey, enjoying the smell and feel of the books.  All of the workers at the library knew us.  We were well-behaved and obviously we appreciated the books.  More importantly, we respected the sanctity of The Library.  Always easily bored, but eager to learn new things, and never shy, I befriended the women who worked in the children’s area.  Eventually, they taught me to check out books using a crazy machine that took a picture of your library card, a white paper card similar to a bi-fold business card with the map of Richland County that was represented in metal sculpture on the wall outside of the library and now resides in the new library on Assembly street, and a picture of the book from the back of the book.  They let me shelve books because I did a good job at it.  It was very important to me that books be in order and in the correct areas. I would help other little kids find books they liked.  I adored every minute of it.  I loved learning how to use the card catalog, which I can still do very well, and taught many classmates over the years how to use.

At a certain time, Kelli and I would go across the street to meet Grandma at the bus stop to go home.  I was safe every day and learned an immense amount of useful knowledge and skills.  My love of books continued to grow. My grandmother barely had a high school education, but she was had  love of books that she passed on to every one of her children and grandchildren.  No matter what our shortcomings, insanities, poor choices and mislead lives, we all had and have a love of reading and books that is nearly an obsession for some of us (me).

We only did that until I started 7th grade and walked to Hand.  I loved that year and a half spent in the stacks on Sumter Street.  It’s one of my favorite memories of being a child.  The only card I have loved as much as my first library card is my first voter’s registration card.

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When my grandmother, the one constant in my life, died almost four years ago, she was cremated.  Her “cremains” were basically divided between me, my aunt, my sister, my sister-out-law and a plastic bag, with me getting the bulk of them. I keep her ashes in a walnut box designed for such purpose.  It has THE HOBB engraved on top. There is a plastic container which holds her ashes safely in the box. Around the edges of the box there is some space.  Whenever I find things that remind me of her, or belonged to her, that are small, I place them in the box with her. When her cat, Higgins, passed away, I put his collar in the box.  I have a lock of hair I cut off of her head the last time I cut it. If I find random coins, they go in there because she always wanted my change.  There are other little random things I find and stick in their. Today, I received a quarter, with Gettysburg on the back.  I put that in there, too.  That was our favorite vacation together.

I miss her every single day, but little things like this make me feel closer to her.

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Wooden Spoons

When  I was a small girl, Gramma worked at Richland Memorial Hospital, in the canteen.  She was the manager.  Everyday after school, I would be dropped off  at the hospital by my ride.  I would meet Gramma there, and wait until her shift was over.  The canteen was only open until about 4.  After I finished my snack and whatever homework I had, which was usually none, I became bored and started asking my Gramma for something to do.  She would usually come up with some little chore for me to do and then give me some little bit of money to do it.  I did everything from pull the dead, wilted leaves off of heads of lettuce to restock the chocolate and strawberry shortcake parfaits in the mounted, back-lit refrigerated unit.

After I got my money, I would go next door to the gift shop.  I never could hold on to my money.   Ms. “Mac” ran the gift shop.  Actually, The Pink Ladies ran the gift shop.  They were the hospital volunteer ladies.  They still wear pink smocks. To me, however, it was Ms. Mac’s shop.  She would greet me, happy to see me.  “Hey Kimmy! What are we buying today?” she would ask.

I would smile and reply, “Hi, Ms. Mac!  I am going to get some candy and maybe somethinng for Grammer.”  I would walk over and collect my grape flavored Pop Rocks and a Sugar Daddy.  Then I would meticulously look at everything on every shelf. There were never any really big crowds in the small store that sold the basic hospital gift shop items: flowers, magazines, baby items, books, so Ms. Mac usually walked around with me, asking about school, my day, etc.  I was always spending my “hard-earned” money in there on something for Gramma, but it had to be just the right thing.  Nothing ordinary would do for MY gramma.

On one particular day, after several minutes of scouring the shelves, seeing things I had seen a million other times, my eyes spotted something new: wooden spoons.  Finding these, to six year old me, was like hitting the proverbial jackpot!  MY gramma always used wooden spoons with which to cook.  They were a quarter each! I carefully chose the four I wanted to get for her. I took my items up to the register.  Ms. Mac said, “So, have you found what you were looking for?”

“Yes, ma’am! Grammer likes to cook, so she’ll love these!”  It never occurred to me to wonder why a hospital gift shop was selling wooden spoons.  Now, in hindsight, I would say it was devine intervention.  Ms. Mac carefully placed my valuable items in a plain, pink paper bag.  I marched triumphantly back to the canteen, ready to eat my Pop Rocks and hand over the spoons to my gramma.

“I see you got some of those God-awful Pop Rocks. Well, you know you can’t have any Coke with those,” she said in her matter-of-fact-I-mean-business-gramma voice.

“Yes, ma’am.  I know.  I got you something!” I exclaimed.

“Oh good!  Do I get it now, or do I have to wait until we get home?” she asked.

I said, “I guess you can have it now.”  I opened the bag,  took my Sugar Daddy out for later and handed the now-rumpled pink paper bag over.  She opened it and slid out the slick, clean wooden spoons.

“They are just the kind I like, Kimmy!  Perfect,” she proclaimed.

At the end of her shift, we gathered up all of our stuff and started the walk home.  We only lived two blocks from the hospital, and this was always a favorite part of my day.  When we got home she said, “Let’s wash these up and then I can make us some pancakes for dinner!  If you’re not too full of Pop Rocks,” she smiled knowingly.  She knew that Breakfast for Dinner was one of my favorite things.  She made the pancakes for us and declared that they tasted better having been made with the new spoons.   I just sat there grinning, sticky with Ms. Butterworth’s.

Over the years, Gramma used those spoons all the time, making one love-filled meal after the next for the people most important to her, her family.  She provided us with pancakes, cakes, biscuits, stews, soups, Kool-Aid. Even now, 32 years later, we still have a couple of those spoons left.  She always cooked with those spoons, and whenever I see them, the evoke memories of my gramma cooking for us. Now it’s my turn to cook meals full of love for the people I care most about, and I’ll use those spoons to do it.

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