In their college days, my sisters called her “Gram.” I referred to her in shorthand as GMC. She was my Grandmother Casey, and she was born 100 years ago today in Denmark, Arkansas. (So, this is not about General Motors. I have nothing to say about that company, although many others might.)
Ruth Casey was a selfless woman — always giving and serving. She worked a few odd jobs during her life — as an Avon lady, in the Harding Academy cafeteria, and a couple others. But she was a devoted homemaker, primarily: throughout her years, she kept house and cooked exceptionally well.
Grandmother Casey regularly got up early with Granddaddy, who was usually at work by 6 a.m. She had some good friends — among them some southern ladies named Lelah, Lucille, Laverne, Opal, and Marcella. (My 5-year-old son just noted, when he heard me read this paragraph, that these are “very unusual names.”) GMC was willing to try new things such as recipes shared with these friends.
She picked strawberries every year, sometimes inviting friends to go with her, and she gardened some. Patti, a younger friend, remembered that GMC asked whether it would be inappropriate for her to wear “pedal-pushers” to pick berries in. (Patti assured her it would be fine, but she didn’t end up wearing them!) GMC spent many years caring for her mother-in-law, both in the home and in a nursing home. “Ruth Casey was probably the best daughter-in-law ever,” said Patti, who also remembered GMC as “always ready to laugh” and “up there with my favorite people ever.” One of her own daughters-in-law loved Diet Coke, and GMC surprised her with a fridge full of about 6 six-packs once. I remember the laughter over that.
Ruth and Max Casey had two fine sons — my dad, Gerald Wayne, and my uncle, Lanny Max. Both the boys, like their daddy, were outstanding athletes. The story goes that my granddaddy decided against going to a Cardinals tryout camp, choosing to marry Ruth instead. At any rate, the boys had a secure, stable home, and both were standouts in academics and sports. My dad remembers never being in want, but the Casey family never had an abundance, either. While my dad and uncle were growing up, they had dogs named Susie and Sandy. Then, for a long time in the later years, the Caseys had a cat named Beth Ann — named for two friends — gracing the home.
GMC didn’t have a driver’s license until she was in her 40s. She drank Maxwell House coffee (my sister Laura got the vintage MH mugs). She liked to stand by the “fire” — the gas-burning stove, which she turned up high — during the colder months. She had a small kitchen with almost no counter space, but she made do, and she had to store some items way up high in cabinets built for someone a foot or two taller than she was, so she had a step stool at the ready. The small, enclosed “back porch” had three doors, one of which was perpetually blocked off, one of which led to the kitchen, and the other of which led outside. The laundry was done out there “on the porch,” and one could often find stockpiled sodas and other supplies there, too.
Back in the 40s, when the Caseys moved to Market Street, there was an outhouse on the property, and it was quite a decision to have a shower installed in place of the tub-only, around 1982. since she was always thinking of others first, GMC (who was short — about 5’3″) had to be talked into having the shower nozzle placed optimally for herself instead of for her grandson and other houseguests.
Among my four grandparents, Granddaddy Casey died first — very unexpectedly, at 64 — and Grandmother Casey died last, in her early 80s. She lived alone, then, for nearly two decades, but she wasn’t always alone. The oldest of her three grandchildren, I lived in her house during my college years, and I spent more time with GMC than with all my other grandparents combined. My sisters also lived with her some during college, as well as sharing a duplex home next door for a year or so.
A few of my friends came to GMC’s table for dinner, and she liked meeting them and serving them. I remember Grandmother ironing my shirts, waiting for me to get home from the practice room or a rehearsal with dinner on the table, taking me out to Wendy’s or pizza once in a while, and never uttering a single cross or complaining word. My dad has said he never saw her angry. Oh, once in a while, she would set her jaw and lips just so, and say, “Now, Brian . . . ,” scolding me a little, but I deserved every bit of it and didn’t treat her nearly as well as she deserved.
One of the best things I ever did with GMC (in a short-lived fit of collegiate consciousness of someone other than myself ) was to ask a question of this wonderful person who had been providing so much more than room & enviable food during college . . . I asked her how often she thought of my granddaddy, her husband that had been gone for a dozen years at that point. Without blinking an eye, she said that she thought about him every day. She had been patient with him for years, waiting for him to quit smoking, and mostly waiting for him to come to God. Although GMC’s spiritual thoughts and experiences were fairly limited, she was committed to God and to His people. She once wrote to my dad while he was at a summer camp, “Max was baptized.” It was good news, of course, but GMC wasn’t one to complicate things.
Patience, goodness, and simplicity were among GMC’s many virtues — along with love. She loved well, and she inspired a lot of loyalty, not the least of which was shown in her sons, who loved her in return.
This is a tiny tribute to a big-hearted lady, my Grandmother Casey. I miss her. I’ll close with a few quotes from my dad:
I never saw her complain or say a negative word about anyone or anything.
I never saw her cry.
She had an infectious laugh that was, unfortunately, not passed on to her sons.
She was a gracious, Christian lady who was what she appeared to be and who supported her appearance with a lifetime of serving others — family, neighbors, and unknowns.