Brody: Granny and Granddaddy Pete revisited

My Granddaddy Pete used to say all the time, “Never do anything you can put off until tomorrow,” followed by his wide toothless grin.

For years I believed everything he and Granny Pete told me. That is, until their son and my daddy explained to me that was certainly not true advice.

In fact, my daddy added, “That is unless you want to end up like this,” as he swept his arm wide to include their little shotgun house with no indoor bathroom and a man who could neither read nor write.

I’d never thought of them like that of course.

I did not want to grow up and live this way although I dearly loved them.

So I sat down today to try to remember other things about them. I could write a book about their life after World War I and the poverty, the absence of education and the fact that because of such harsh living, there was a strong sense of loyalty to connection among the neighbors.

Many were related because there was little transportation or money to buy any, so neighbor often married neighbor.

My grandparents met in a little Baptist church and married very young. That too was the norm — get married and start having babies. There was no such thing as birth control and they didn’t know any better.

The nearest doctor was in the next town, so the medical care from midwives and even just men who read a lot and acted like doctors.

Many babies died because of all of this. Maybe that was another reason they wanted lots of births.

My granny and granddaddy Pete were no exception. I’m not sure how many times she lost her babies, but she did end up with four healthy children.

She had this dresser chest with five deep drawers. When a new baby arrived, they just put it in one of the drawers. Imagine!

Granny Pete was a tough little lady. One of the stories I recalled was the day she fell coming down the front porch step.

The medical person declared her kneecap was broken. She kept this diagnosis to herself and she went right on with all of her daily chores.

The pain was excruciating but the very idea of going to a hospital somewhere far away and having surgery was even more excruciating to her, so she kept her secret and somehow endured.

This went on for weeks and finally she burst into tears and succumbed to the unthinkable. The hospital doctor just shook his head saying, “How could this little lady walk with a broken kneecap?” He just didn’t know my Granny Pete.

And if you’d seen her, you’d wonder too. She was quite short, squarely built and her legs were so crooked she looked like she lived on a horse. But this very same lady who stood that pain did all the laundry on the back porch in two big tin tubs and then hung it all on the line in the back yard.

So, this South Georgia lady who taught herself to read enough to pay the bills and read lady magazines could stand the pain of walking on a broken kneecap but was crippled by all the superstitions and fears she struggled with her whole life.

And there was something else she could do. One Sunday when we were visiting, Granny Pete asked what we wanted for dinner and when we couldn’t make up our mind, she said, “OK, we’ll have chicken.”

She went outside and I followed her to the back yard. I couldn’t understand what she was doing. She was quite deliberate looking at each hen hovering around her feet. She called each one by name. I began to feel sick to my stomach. Surely not. I was 10 years old and already a strong animal advocate.

My Granny Pete, who fed them and named them, grabbed one of those hens she called Bertha and in a deadly moment, she flung that poor chicken around and around by her neck and broke it.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I ran into the house crying and told my mother I was never eating here again. Mother calmed me down but she made me be polite by sitting at the table while everyone ate Bertha.

There is one memory that came to me about my Granddaddy Pete that was a bit out of character for that rough and tumble guy.

I have loved books all my life. My mother says I could spend hours listening to anyone who would read story books to me.

Whenever we visited Naylor, I would take a stack of my books in hopes someone would read them to me.

On one visit I presented my books to Granny Pete but she was too busy baking her lemon pound cake. Granddaddy Pete told me to sit in his lap and he would read to me.

And he would start. At age 3, I didn’t catch on that he was simply looking at pictures and creating his own story. He had no idea what all those words were but it didn’t make any difference to him at all. I thought his stories were funny, outrageous and unforgettable. I would have listened forever.

What I do recall about those wondrous times is he would laugh his wide toothless laugh at his own imagination.

This became an anticipated event at every visit. It went on long after I could read the words myself.. but I always loved his stories better.

We had a lovely home in Atlanta, Georgia on the country club grounds. My mother did not allow tobacco inside our home. So, Granny and Granddaddy Pete were sitting on the wide front veranda in two big white rocking chairs. It was their afternoon tobacco time.

After they burped and made a few other bodily noises that helped their digestion, he reached in his pocket and pulled out a little burlap bag of loose tobacco.

In the other hand he held thin small papers he filled with his stash. Wetting the paper with his tongue, he rolled his concoction and had himself a handmade cigarette.

Then he reached in his other pocket and held the dark, smelly, weedy stuff and when he held it out to her, she pinched a wad of it and stuffed it in her side cheek and began to smack and chew.

It was just when he lit up and she spit her first tobacco juice into her juice can that a car rolled up to a stop in front of our home.

Out jumped two of my brother’s friends. Bill came running out of the house and to the car. He pointed to Granny and Granddaddy Pete and said, “These people are just visiting. Ready to go?”

Yup, two different worlds, related by blood but so different in life.

The rest of my siblings didn’t get as attached as I did. I think they missed something.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.