Good afternoon. I’m Rhonda Hayes, granny’s oldest grandchild. My life has been richly blessed with grandparents. When I was born I had both maternal and paternal grandparents and great grandparents, and even one great-great grandparent---12 in all. All of whom were very special to me. The bond between Granny and me was extra special. Now that I too am a grandparent, I can understand how much Granny loved all of her grandchildren. She kept me when I was a baby while my mom worked. And for most of my whole childhood, they lived very near to us. We went to church together, ate lots of meals together, went on trips together, and spent lots of time at each other’s houses. I’d like for us to take some time today to remember the things that made her special and celebrate the joy she brought into our lives. They say that life is not about the number of breaths you take, but of the moments that take your breath away. I’m proud to say that my granny had both of that during her 96 years of life.
It amazes me when I think about how she lived almost a century and the events that shaped her life and ours.
Granny was born in 1918. That year is a date etched in the hearts of many people because it’s the year WWI ended. ….She was born in Sept and the war ended in Nov. Germany collapsed and Peace was declared; nine million people had died; as horrific as this number was, it would be dwarfed by the 50 million people who died in the flu pandemic that year.. I’m pretty sure that’s why every year my dad asks me ---did you get your flu shot?...and I think it’s where Granny got her obsession with Vick’s salve. She would smear it on her chest and tie a handkerchief around it….and if you stayed with her, you can bet you were going to have one too. She did all kinds of things with Vick’s salve….she even ate it. Maybe that’s one of the secrets to a long life!
Women’s rights were just beginning to emerge. Before 1918, women couldn’t vote. Their role was that of a wife and a mother. Which is exactly the life Granny lived. The Great Depression span the course of her childhood and early adult years…. she was 11 years old when it began and the economy didn’t turn around until she was 21 years old. She grew up during times of extreme poverty and hardship. These poor economic times taught Granny to be very frugal. She didn’t waste anything. She re-used fabric from one thing to another and never chewed a whole piece of chewing gum….she’d break off the tinyest piece I don’t know how it didn’t get lost in her mouth.
When Le, Kathy, and Greg were little, they spent time with Granny and Grandaddy too…especially in the summers, they would come and stay for weeks at the time…..Granny would give them a spoon and tell them to go outside and play.
She loved to sew and I remember her letting me sit on her back like a piggy back ride, while she sewed.
It’s hard to imagine that Granny grew up before cars were in much existence. Trains were the primary form of transportation. I think this is why Granny was a home-body. She didn’t love to travel much because she didn’t grow up during a time when people could travel easily. When granddaddy bought a Winnebago for them to travel around the United States she was scared to death……one long trip around some tall mountains and winding roads out west was really all that Granny wanted any part of....so they settled on camping and boating at nearby lakes and eventually bought a house on Lake Eufaula. We all have fond memories of going camping with Granny and Grandaddy.
They taught many of us how to fish and how to ski. Grandaddy drove the boat and Granny was the look out. I loved to go camping with them because I knew that we’d have great food to eat. Still today when I smell hashbrowns, I think of the ones she cooked while we were camping. When we camped, Granny made toast in the skillet, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and bacon. But if we were at her house, she was most famous for her breakfasts…..my personal favorite was her sugar syrup and biscuits. She also loved to make red-eyed gravy and grits. She always remembered to make things especially for the children, rolling out tiny biscuits just for the grandchildren.
During granny’s childhood, the telephone was a novelty; television was a glimmer in someone’s eye; there were no heavier-than-air aircraft; electricity was only beginning to be worked with.
During her lifetime penicillin, rocketry, pop up toasters, hairdryers, jet engines, ball point pens, disposable diapers, the internet, and all the digital gadgets we have in our pockets today were invented. In spite of all of this, Granny and Grandaddy were pretty good with new inventions. They are the only people I know that could actually program the first VCR’s but both granny and granddaddy learned how to do it. Mine always flashed the time…it would blink blink blink….but there’s never did.
Someone might say that the telephone is the world’s greatest invention because it drastically reduced the amount of time it took to communicate with each other. And the telephone is how Granny stayed connected to friends in family in the last years of her life. I know that my Aunt Jean called her multiple times a day and talked with her to keep her company. Even though Jean lives in Birmingham, the telephone kept them closely connected. Whenever I was traveling and on the roads she kept me awake while I drove by talking to me for hours on the phone; she’d know about how long we’d talk based on what city I was in and where I was headed. We talked about recipes and cooking, she updated me on the latest news, she helped me stay connected to the family….she called herself my newswoman….she did this ……. until she could no longer hear the words on the news clearly enough to know exactly what they were saying. I remember one time they were talking about freezing some embryo’s for a couple ….and granny couldn’t hear good enough to really know what they were talking about….she thought it was a story about freezing weather…..later in the day I heard the story and had a big laugh when I realized what was really freezing.
Granny was known as a great cook. She let me sit on the counter and watch her from the time I was a very little girl. I wish that I could say that I learned how to cook as good as her, but I haven’t. Some of our family’s favorite things she cooked were butter rolls and banana puddings. We all have fond memories of their Fish fries and barbeques. Granny made the best hush puppies I’ve ever eaten. No matter how carefully I follow her recipe, they never turn out as good as granny’s.
Granny and granddaddy loved drinking coffee. Even at the nursing home she drank coffee. This is another one of her secrets to living a long life. She loved white donuts with her coffee too….everyday.
One of my favorite memories with Granny is from when I was very little. She’d hold me in her lap in a rocking chair and sing. Granny loved to sing….she had a high pitched ole’ timey way sound to her voice. One of her favorite songs was rock of ages. Another favorite was swing low, sweet chariot….except instead of saying chariot she would sing swing low, sweet cheerios…..
This reminds me of another fun memory of Granny. She had the most interesting way of pronouncing words. She called Tylenol, Tylenods….and instead of saying rinse the rag out in the sink, she would say wrench it….and if you want to take a picture grab your camry! And she’d ask you do you want a “slosh” of cake? ….and I’ll see you ter-rectly. I recently read an article that described this way of talking as a distinct dialect from South Alabama that some believe came from Old Shakespearean language that was influenced by a variety of factors.
When I think about Granny’s virtues---her habits of mind, heart, and behavior…..Granny certainly possessed the master virtue wisdom. She was able to see what was truly important in life and set priorities. She was also a very smart person. Although she only had a third grade education, she could read and write and understand most anything. She had great common sense. When I would tell her things going on with me and in the schools she always knew what I should do and what was right and wrong. When I was a very little girl Granny taught little children in Sunday School. I sometimes went to class with her. My mom and dad worked with the youth and my mom taught a GA class. I’m pretty sure that’s where the seed was planted for my future years as a teacher.
A second virtue Granny possessed was fortitude. Fortitude is the inner toughness that enables us to overcome or withstand hardship, defeats, inconvenience, and pain. Her courage, resilience, patience, perseverance, endurance, and self-confidence helped her live alone and unassisted for 96 years. Granny had the greatest will to live of anyone I’ve ever known; Even when she couldn’t move without a walker she would hold the rake in one had and her walker or a cane in the other….she’d rake the yard and sweep her own driveway this way.
Another virtue she possessed was self-discipline. She was able to balance a healthy lifestyle. She always believed in staying physically fit…..exercise was always a part of her daily routine. I think this is another secret to living a long life. I remember going with her to exercise classes and then doing exercises with her at home; I loved dancing with her and remember when she and granddaddy bought their first stereo record player. She loved to be outside and walk. It was a big part of each day, until just a couple of years ago, she continued to walk….even though her route changed from going around the block to walking down the road to the stop sign…and then just to the mailbox… Daddy had to ban her from walking to the mailbox because we were all afraid that she was going to fall and hurt herself because of their sloping driveway.
Another virtue that Granny possessed was love. Love is comprised of many important virtues—empathy, compassion, kindness, generosity, service, loyalty, patriotism, and forgiveness, all of these make up love. Love is a demanding virture. Granny took this verse pretty seriously, “love your neighbor as yourself”. I know that she loved Ferrell and Pastor Billy. She didn’t have much to give, but she was known to make a batch of biscuits and beef stew and flag Ferrell down just so that she would have something to give him to thank him for burning her pine cones. She loved her church. She and Grandaddy volunteered at the church doing many things…things like helping set up for Wednesday night supper…pouring the tea and putting it on the tables. If I could think of just three words to say about Granny it would be love of family. Her family span five generations. She loved her two children Dad and Jean. She loved my mom, Faye. Granny thought she hung the moon. She loved each one of her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren.
Granny loved her special friend from First Baptist Church---JoAnn---who visited her faithfully and ministered to her and the GA’s and other youth who visited her while she was shut-in. She loved her brothers and sisters, sister-in-laws and brother in laws. Winnie and all the Dunn’s and their families for their phone calls and visits.
The practice of virtues allows us to live a purposeful, better life; a life not ordinary, but extraordinary.
To Dad and Jean, Scott and Jaimie, Lee, Kathy, and Greg and all of our children and grandchildren: In many ways, each of us are the sum total of what Granny and all of our ancestors were. The virtues they had may be our virtues, their strengths our strengths, and in a way, their challenges could be our challenges. I know that I’m a little bit clumsy….and I’m pretty sure that I can credit that quality to Granny. Thanks for letting me share how much Granny meant to me.