I was fortunate to have both of my grandmothers in my life from birth till their deaths. And in a family with 14 children – it is possible that we would not have all survived without the abundant love, support, babysitting and interaction with both Granny (Mom’s mom) and Grandmama (Dad’s mom).
My grandmothers were very different kinds of people. Granny was an active, energetic and vocal. Granny was non-traditional – a female physical education teacher and coach when at the time this was a “man’s” job. Grandmama was a behind the scenes woman – gentle, kind, and traditional.
When I was young– I never had store bought bread at Grandmama’s house. She always had freshly made cornbread, biscuits, or muffins. Grandmama was the keeper of the blocks – a large collection of wooden blocks played with by several generations of children. We loved to see how tall a tower we could build before they all came tumbling down with a crash. Grandmama helped me plant an Avocado pit in water. It grew quickly, and we transplanted it into soil, and eventually into a bigger pot and finally took it out to the greenhouse – the tree grew taller than me in a manner of months. Growing that Avocado tree spurred my interest in growing things. I announced to my fifth grade teacher that I wanted to be a botanist.
Granny was the physical education teacher at our elementary school. While she was the teacher for all 600 or so children at the school – she paid special attention to my siblings and me. If Martha, my twin sister did not have on a hat when going outside on a cool day, Granny would tie her scarf on her head. Though Granny never tied a scarf on me – she would make sure my jacket was zipped up. On more than one occasion she also would zip up the fly on my jeans as well. Though she tried to be discrete – I was often embarrassed to have my jeans zipped in form of the whole class.
But I was not the only one prone to embarrassment. Granny would startle easily. And when startled she would cuss. My grandfather, knowing this would honk the horn to the car when she walked by. “Oh, Damn!” she would say. Followed by, “Joe look what you made me say – in front of the children.”
My grandmothers helped me shape subtle parts of my character. I learned to honor tradition at times, and at times to be bolder and more self-expressive. I learned to love watching living things grow, and to keep my zipper up. More important, perhaps, I learned that I was loved and valued by a community of adults.
Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.