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Her Favorite Grandchild (1993)

Her Favorite Grandchild (1993)

©1993, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1993). Her favorite grandchild: A remembrance of my grandmother. Unpublished essay.






Her Favorite Grandchild

A Remembrance of My Grandmother

By Dallas Denny


The house had three rooms and a porch, and I would sit on the porch with my cousins and slather Miracle Whip on white bread with a kitchen knife and slice red ripe tomatoes from Granny’s garden and lay them on the bread and eat them. The tomatoes had the scent of the vine still on them, and the bread was fresh and spongy, and we were young and approaching puberty; there was nothing better than a tomato sandwich eaten on the porch in the company of girl cousins.

Nowadays tomatoes are hard and tasteless, and they’re talking about growing them square so they can ship them easier. White bread is unhealthy, and Miracle Whip is available in regular and Lite. Granny’s Western Carolina cabin, which even when I was a child was more than a hundred years old, is gone, her Warm Morning stove sold to a junk dealer and the weathered boards toted to the dump to make way for a double-wide mobile home. The garden Granny loved so much has been put to other uses.

I have only the word of the family that I ever had a grandfather; I don’t remember him—although I have seen a photo. There were no grandparents on the other side, the shady side, of the family. There was only Granny, old and fat and wrinkled and musty-smelling for as long as I could remember, as much that way at sixty as she was at ninety-three, when the family finally coerced her into a nursing home. I would go with my girlfriend to visit her at that nursing home, taking her the twisted little hot green peppers she loved so much, and home­grown tomatoes (or as near as I could find) for sandwiches, bringing her as much as I could of the garden from which she had been removed by age and a family that wanted her out of the way.

How it must have been when she was young! She told me once she ran a mile-and-a-half barefoot through briars to see the first car in Western North Carolina, In her lifetime she saw square dances and barn raisings give way to drive-in movies and television, and then to eight-screen cinema complexes and satellite dishes. One day she told me her family had once owned half of Black Mountain. There was pride in that statement, and perhaps a little bewilderment about how things had come so far, so fast.

Granny never believed man had gone to the moon, and would forcefully argue the point. Her children and the rest of the grandchildren would defer to her age, but I would argue with her. Perhaps it was because of my taking her seriously as a human being instead of treating her like a weathered matriarch, or perhaps it was because of my taste for tomato sandwiches, which persisted well into adulthood, but I was her favorite grandchild. I didn’t particularly believe it when she told me so, but I did later, when my cousins told me she had said the same thing to them.

My grandmother’s funeral was my second, ever. I remember my first funeral, when I was five; perhaps that’s why I had trouble going to Granny’s. I pulled into the lot of the Funeral Home and was told where to park my car, and I just drove off and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway where I could see the mountains she had loved so well. I did that twice, and finally, after everyone was inside the chapel and the door was closed, I parked where I damned well pleased and stood just inside the doorway and listened to a preacher who hadn’t known her completely miss the point of her life and character. Later, I drove to her old home place, where I sat for one last time on the porch where I had eaten tomato sandwiches those long years ago and talked to my girl cousins, now grown up with grown-up children.

At some point a committee of family members gave me Granny’s wedding ring, telling me that as I was her favorite, she would have wanted me to have it. I was mightily pleased to get the ring, But it pleased me even more when my aunt, who was dividing Granny’s belongings, asked me, since I had admired them, If I wanted the Japanese ceramic figurines the rest of the family thought so ugly. Of course I did. They were a symbol for the similarities between me and Granny and our differences from the rest of the family. The figurines turned out to be more than several hundreds of years old, and quite valuable.

You know, it pays to take people seriously. Have another tomato sandwich?