I know she was there for a little girl when her own mother wasn't able. She didn't have anything the world values, precious few 'baubles' and such. She birthed kids to help on the farm, grew vegetables, hung laundry out to dry on the clotheslines behind the house, raised chickens and wrung their necks for Sunday dinner when they stopped producing. Life didn't allow for being unproductive, not even for the chickens. She worked alongside her husband til he died and left her to work the farm alone. Nothing out of the ordinary back then. When I look at the only photo I have of her I don't see much strength in that skinny frame but looks can be deceiving. If she was attractive when she was younger years eventually stripped that away. I wonder, was she pretty, like my Mom, when she was young?
Hair white as snow and pulled back tight, a stern face, big granny glasses, lips pinched together. Did she have a nice smile or bad teeth? Likely bad. The three older women in the photo, holding lips tightly together - can't be a coincidence. (Only my mother is smiling, likely joy spilling over from the baby (my sister) on her lap?) Did that spot on her forehead bother her? Did she ever put powder over it? Did her life allow any vanities? It would bother me, but so much of my life is different than hers.
I'll never know the answers, never know what her favorite color was, if she grew roses or zinnias at the edge of her garden, to bring inside for a touch of color. There's much I wish I knew about this woman who loved my mother.
Granny took care of Mom, took her in from time to time when she needed a place to be. Fed her. Whatever passed between them, it was enough for my mother to go back, to visit her one last time, when she was in her 90's. She'd lived out in the country, in the same house for all those years, a house she felt safe in. Just a few years before she died she was watched, followed, and robbed of her monthly social security, then they tied her to her bed and left her to die. Three days later someone checked on her, and made of tough enough grit, she survived to tell my mother, during that last visit, to buy herself a 'shootin' iron'. 'You need a shootin' iron.
Granny poured enough of what mattered into my mother's life that 34 years after she was gone it was important to find her grave, make up for the funeral she missed and whisper graveside what she hadn't had the chance to say.
We tromped among tombstones, some hard and dry and taking care to walk around those fresh and new out of respect. Cemetery after cemetery, searching, with no luck. I was so disappointed to pull out of town, to give up. Mom told me it was okay, we'd given it our best. As we drove down the road, heading out of town, there on the left was a sign, "Thomas Cemetery". We pulled through the big iron gates, got out and started looking. Within minutes I spied a large tombstone with the name she'd told me to watch for. The tallest one in the entire graveyard.
She shouted, "Yes!" and hurried over to look. We'd found the family plot - there was her great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother, some great-uncles she remembered, but not Granny's. Not to be found. Why wouldn't it be here, with the rest?
Off in the corner, alone, a plain, bare grave with three stones piled up at the head of it. No name, just three rocks and dirt piled long and high years and years ago. Next to it, down in the dirt, a tiny metal plate that the cemetery provided - there was her name. No months or days, but years, and it had stayed there, stuck down in that dirt, for all those years, waiting for us to come and find it.
The headstone wasn't much to look at. It didn't signify a grand life, a life with much fanfare, but if Granny could look down and see my mother's face as she stood there, it would be all the tribute a soul could ever want for. Not all accolades are chiseled into stone.
I made my mother a promise that day - someday when she is gone I will come back here and put a stone, a proper stone, with a name and dates, and a line that honors her life. A line or verse that will tell whoever happens to wander by, here lies a woman whose life counted for something, to someone.
Allie Perry, born 1886, died loved 1977.