My Grandmother Stricklin did not often buy me toys or clothes, and she didn't take me on weekly shopping trips to Dollar Tree or dinner dates to McDonald's. (In fact, I don't think Dollar Tree and McDonald's had been invented yet when I was a young child, maybe not until I was almost a teenager. At any rate, they certainly hadn't made it to my remote corner of the world!)
Mer didn't buy a separate TV "for the kids" and she didn't stock an arsenal of Disney movies or subscribe to Nickelodeon. She didn't have LeapFrog, Baby Einstein, video games or the latest kid-friendly smart-phone apps. (In fact, I don't think VCRs or Nickelodeon had been invented yet, back when I was a kid. The only games I distinctly remember playing at Mer's house were Chinese checkers and rummy.)
What Mer DID have was...
I would wad a change of clothes into a satchel and walk the few miles from my parents' house to my grandmother's most Friday afternoons after I got home from school. Mer must have been looking for me, because she usually had a glass of lemonade or sweet tea ready for me when I climbed that last enormous hill to her house. (That hill is not so enormous now.)
We played rummy or Chinese checkers or just sat together on the couch reading. Mer worked the crossword in the newspaper, and I sat beside her and did the word search puzzle. Saturday mornings, I helped her clean house. Then, we drove to town - the great bustling metropolis of Troy, Tennessee - and Mer had her hair teased for Sunday and we stopped by Scott's for a few groceries.
Saturday nights were the best. After supper, we snuggled together on the couch (Mer was so warm and soft and squishy!) and we watched TV: Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett. Carol Burnett was my favorite - I wanted to be Carol Burnett when I grew up. After the 10:00 news, we watched Johnny Carson's opening monologue on The Tonight Show, and then it was time for bed.
On very rare occasions, we would watch a late movie. I fell love with Jimmy Stewart and Charlton Heston. Commercial breaks featured ads for exotic fast-food restaurants that were "Open Late!" - places like McDonald's and Hardee's and Burger King. Mer and I would drool through the commercials, wishing we could make a late-night run for a hamburger or fried chicken. Too bad Memphis was two hours away!
I remember one movie in which Jimmy Stewart stopped at a street vendor in one scene and bought a cup of coffee and a boiled egg. Mer and I looked at each other and beamed. Finally! Here was something we could have! During the next commercial break, Mer raced to the kitchen and cranked up the stove. We finished watching that movie sitting on the couch, eating boiled eggs and passing a shaker of salt between us.
Mer made the best coconut cake - from scratch, with freshly grated coconut. Cracking the coconut was an annual holiday event. And she made the best fudge. And the best cornbread. And the best squirrel gravy. (You'll have to ask my brother David about squirrel gravy.)
Although Mer was always on a diet, she kept cookies (usually pecan sandies or those super cool orange sugar wafers) and frozen ice milk ("it has fewer calories than regular ice cream") and Pepperidge Farm pound cake on hand, "just in case we want something sweet."
Mer smelled like rose water and Ponds cold cream. Her dentures clacked sometimes, and she fussed if I dropped her blue Efferdent tablets in the toilet to watch them fizz. Mer had a cupboard in her guest room (the room with the blue satin comforter fit for a movie star), and it was filled with fancy hats and gloves and scarves. I loved to sit on the pew next to Mer on Sunday morning, so I could stroke the silky fur of her mink stole. (She frequently had M&M's candies or Zebra Stripe gum in her purse on Sunday mornings, too.)
|Mer (Earline Elizabeth Cunningham Stricklin) is the second from the right. Her sister, my Great Aunt Evelyn, is the young woman on the far left.|
I hope the little children I love so much today will look back 40 or 50 years from now and think of me with as much fond affection as I feel when I remember my Mer.