O.Henry Ending

Sunday Lessons

In the loving hands of a remarkable grandmother

By Kathleen Causey

The black cat clock sat directly above the living room chair where my grandmother wove the rag rugs she sold all over the country. Its large eyes clicked back and forth in time with the swishing tail, mesmerizing my little sister with its quirkiness. I watched my grandmother’s hands, bent in strange ways from my own, twisting the multi-colored satin blanket binding with amazing speed and spinning tales in a soft voice without dropping a stitch.

Hattie Mae Cochran wasn’t my blood relative. I inherited her at age 7 when my mother married her son. This would be my mother’s third marriage and his as well. The union brought a boatload of half-brothers and stepsisters, and it was never comfortable explaining the relationships of our family. The best part of the deal was inheriting Grandma Cochran. She didn’t have her mother’s Cherokee dark looks, but was fair-haired, light skinned and small in stature, with the patience to explain why her strong-minded son demanded so much from his children.

After church on Sunday our extended family met at Grandma’s house. We would stop and pick up the bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and she would have the veggies ready, covered and sitting in their bowls on the back of the stove. In the summers, we followed her down the garden rows helping to hold the basket as she picked ripened tomatoes and cukes for our lunch. In the winters when it was too chilly to play outside, I would squeeze in at her feet with my siblings and cousins in her tiny living room and hear the stories of her life — how they built their cabin too close to a rattlesnake den in Wilkes County and the snakes would try to crawl up through the cracks in the floor in the winter; how, come spring, they moved the cabin farther up the ridge; how they used newspaper to fill the cracks to stop the freezing wind from blowing through. Her fingers stopped only to hand us a needle to thread as she filled our imaginations.

My stepfather, with his Elvis Presley good looks, ran a strict house, demanding perfection and routine, and never spared the rod. Grandma was my savior. I spent weekends with her, bravely following her down into the cellar with my arms filled with Mason jars as she used a stick to clear the spider webs away from our path. She taught me how to make bread and butter pickles; how to put up beans; how to use my fingers to cut in the butter to make biscuits; how to make a flaky crust for her wonderful lemon meringue pie. Grandma made lacy, intricate doilies; crocheted afghans and quilted like a magician. On special weekends, she allowed me to hunt through her private quilt collection she kept in the closet of the guest room. One hangs on a ladder rung in my dining room. The circles of material were from colorful scraps of dresses and shirts. It took months to finish and she couldn’t bear to sell it, or give it away until it became mine.

I overheard my parents say that the year my Grandma gives up her garden will be her last. When that spring came and she said she wouldn’t be planting, my heart was heavy with the grief of what was to be. I am a grandmother now, and though this woman has long left this world, her voice is with me. She is there with each pie crust I make, with each tomato I pick, with each stitch I sew.  As summer comes and the earth starts to warm, I look at my own hands and how they are changing with time, and I hope one day my granddaughters will sit and ask why my fingers are crooked and bent; and perhaps they will listen patiently as the tail of the clock swishes and the eyes click back and forth.  OH

Kathleen Causey lives and golfs in Seven Lakes, North Carolina, volunteers at the Sandhills Woman’s Exchange, and knows way more about cyber security than your average grandmother.

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