Grandmother Casey would have been 104 today. The picture above was probably taken in Texas, perhaps when she was in her late 60s. She was the last of my grandparents to live on this earth, and she was an unassuming, industrious, unselfish, worthy woman. My grandparents’ house, also unassuming, was on Market Street in Searcy, just across from the sidewalk that split the student center and the American Heritage Building. The house no longer exists, but memories do.
Two cars could park parallel to the street in front of the house. I remember four cars my grandparents owned from my early childhood through my 30s: a ’53 Chevy that my grandfather drove to work in Judsonia, a white Chevy sedan that looked much like the one here; and two green Plymouth Furys from the 70s. I drove one of those Furys myself, and I can remember how it sounded when it started.
There was a tiny storage barn “out yonder” on the north end of the property. (I think it had once housed chickens.) The large front porch featured a hanging bench swing. I remember the unheated, fully enclosed “back porch” where one could always find aged 2-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper and Coke, old newspapers, a washer and dryer, and cleaning products. A door went through to the 2nd bedroom, but that door was almost never opened. Back in the back room (also unheated, and reached only through the 2nd bedroom), there was an 8-track player with two cassettes that Grandmother had won in a radio call-in contest. I remember a box full of simple toys—for example, a nonfunctional camera and some empty, plastic, Avon bottles—that Grandmother or Granddaddy would get out when the grandkids came home for Christmas. Grandmother would giggle and sometime even cackle.
Arkansas could be awfully hot, and there were two window air conditioners. It could also get deceptively cold in winter, and Grandmother would stand near the “fire” (a large, vented gas heater in the corner of the living room) with her hands behind her, warming herself. I remember her kitchen—dwarfed by a table that could seat eight if it had to—and the lack of counter space that she somehow worked with anyway. She had a wooden stool with fold-out steps, and I would sometimes find her up on it, reaching for something in an upper cabinet. We went out once a month or so to eat at Wendy’s or Pizza Inn. She never had much money, but she had a few good friends; Laverne and Lavelle stand out in particular, but people all over who knew her had kind words for her. She picked strawberries every spring with Laverne during the time I was aware of it. She had younger friends, too—for instance, Patti, our family’s good friend from Delaware, attended Harding and was at Grandmother’s house regularly. Patti has spoken glowingly of Grandmother to me, indicating how she “loved Ruth Casey.” Marcella from next door considered her a friend, too. The Latham sisters’ storm cellar, three doors down, was a haven during a tornado warning a time or two.
I had the benefit of Grandmother’s cooking on a daily basis during my 3.5 years as an undergraduate at Harding University. She would serve lunch according to my chorus rehearsal schedule (11:45-12:35 one year, 1:00-1:50 the next, then back to 11:45). Dinner came after band rehearsal, around 5:45. I don’t think she left me without a meal once, although I barely took enough time to thank her. (Yes, I gained weight during college!) Grandmother once scolded me a little for not wanting her to spend time ironing my shirts. She liked serving others and would sometimes also welcome my friends to her table–Kandy, Allen, Glenn, Jim, and Debbi, for instance.
Grandmother was a homemaker most of her life but had worked outside the home briefly. She took up the piano in her late 50s or early 60s, acquiring a cast-off upright from the college. That piano was in its only possible place in that house–the 8×8 hall with five doors, leading to bedrooms, the bathroom, the living room, and the front porch. (The door to the porch was never opened after the piano was moved in.)
I sometimes left notes on the telephone table across from the piano, and I addressed them to “GMC,” but I called her “Grandmother.” That might sound formal or distant if you called yours “Grandma” or “Nana,” but that doesn’t mean my grandmother herself was distant in any sense. She was comfortable to be around, and I always liked being in her house. My sisters also had the benefit of living with her for a year or two during college, and they then called her “Gram.” These days, if she were around, and in view of one of my own developing interests, I might call her “Gramma(r).” ¹
Compared to my other grandmother, Grandmother Casey was less educated, more nurturing, and non-judgmental. She attended the College Church pretty much every time the doors were open, sitting near the back, often with a friend. She had only two Bibles: a KJV and a Living Bible. She read them at home but didn’t talk much about anything deep. I’d say she was shy but was also a true believer. On a few occasions, I tried to engage her about spiritual things, and she responded with faith, concern, and not too many words.
After Grandmother died in 1992, my uncle uncovered her checkbook and showed it to my dad. She had done the math meticulously and apparently often was down around $1.00 before the next Social Security check came. There was always room in her house and at her table for another, though. I wish my son could have known her,² but she was gone nearly two decades before he was born. Grandmother Casey was a good lady. I miss you, Grandmother, and I wish you had met Karly and Jedd.
¹ Here is a short list of gramma(r) issues I’ve heard just in the past week or so, from three different people:
- I need it broke down.
- It was already ran.
- I seen him.
My grandmother had fine grammar, especially for an uneducated woman. I just felt like including the above. 🙂
² Jedd has what I consider a skewed sense of extended family, for two reasons. (1) the generations are very spread apart, so more grands and greats have died, and (2), to say the least, there are some very unbecoming, non-familial people on both sides of our family. I am thankful that Jedd knows well his great-grandmother Clara and a great aunt Marie on Karly’s side, and he knew/knows both of my parents. A couple years ago, he had met a great-grandfather, John, and he’s been a round a few others.