For as long as I can remember, since I was a kid, there have been challenges in my life. Some of them have been difficult. The kind of stuff that alters one's life. But, once you've made it through …
For as long as I can remember, since I was a kid, there have been challenges in my life. Some of them have been difficult. The kind of stuff that alters one's life. But, once you've made it through some of life's tragedies and mistakes, you begin to understand yourself a little better. You find out that you're a survivor. It's an empowering feeling. You've got it, if you need it.
I would have to say that I picked up a lot that I know about life, and how I approach things, from my grandmother. Most everyone called her Miz Lena. She was one strong country woman.
If she stood on her tip-toes, she was barely over five feet tall. That didn't stop her from taking on big projects that were normally reserved for a man.
She started out running a big farm. Very successfully. You should have seen some of those big strapping sharecroppers hop-to when she was on one of her rampages. They were high-stepping, and all you heard from them was, "Yesum, Miz Lena."
In the beginning, she didn't know anything about building houses, but she put up over a hundred of them throughout Middle Tennessee. Granddad was an architect. She insisted he teach her about blueprints and electricity and plumbing. Sometimes, Miz Lena would threaten to stop cooking for him, if he didn't help her out. That's another thing. She was a great cook. My grandfather was only too happy to comply.
No formal education. Reading, writing and some math. Yet, she bought and sold stocks and bonds. She used to say, "I gotta hunch about these boys." When there were still "party lines,” Miz Lena invested, heavily, into AT&T. Her country rationale was, "People are always gonna be talkin' about somethin' or other.” She, of course, was spot on.
She taught herself how to walk again after a horrific car accident. A big truck came across the double yellow line and hit my grandparents' car head-on. Miraculously, Granddad walked away practically unscathed. Miz Lena was pinned to the back, in the trunk of the car. She was pronounced DOA at the hospital, and then came back to life. One arm, and from her waist down, were paralyzed.
They said she would never walk again. Within a year, she was back on the job and walking all around her construction sites. Always with a yardstick in her hand.
I never knew her to be afraid of much anything. I only saw a hint of fear in her eyes, twice.
Once, at the farm, when there was a burglar, downstairs in her foyer. Standing at the top of the stairs, in her nightgown, and a 12-gauge shotgun in her arms, and with me right next to her, she hollered down, "I have a gun, and I'll blow a hole in you so big yore mama won't be able to tell it's you. You better git outta my house, right now!" They took off running. We heard the kitchen screen door slam shut.
The other time was when she was in her late seventies, and tearfully told me she was having a hard time remembering things. She felt something was "just not quite right." My grandmother was dealing with the early signs of dementia. It's a dreadful and humbling disease.
So, needless to say, it was tough to use any excuses with her about anything. She had already been there and made it to the other side. Her real-life, rural logic was always around the corner. She didn't pull any punches. She used whatever she could to make a point, including the personal tragedies that she had had to overcome.
"Now, looka here, little Mr. Bill Stamps, are you gonna sit up here, and tell me you might throw up, if you eat that cauliflower that I spent time cookin' for ya?"
If she called me Honey Baby, I had a good chance of talking her out of things. If she called me by my nickname, Butch, not so much. If she started off with the "little Mr. Bill Stamps" thing, it was not going to turn out too well for me.
"After all I've been through, and you won't taste my cauliflower. Lord God, what am I supposed to do with this boy?"
That's another thing. You didn't want her to start asking the Lord too much about what to do. Because, apparently, sometimes the Almighty recommended that she take me out to the carport and take a hickory switch to my behind.
"Son, how do you know whether you like it, until you try it? You like beans don't cha?" Yes, I did. "Now, how is it you know you like beans? 'Cause you tasted 'em. Same goes for anything. You cain't say for sure till you know for sure."
"Beans come outta the ground and so does cauliflower. Matter a fact, I think God planted 'em side-by-side. Now, sit up straight and take a few bites."
She would look up toward Heaven, and say, "I guess now, I've seen everything. Here my oldest grandson is close to bein' a grown man, and he's afraid of a vegetable."
I was only 7, but still, she had a point.
Miz Lena wasn't impressed much when I cried. There were no comforting words coming from her. She was hard country when it came to crying. She basically didn't believe in it.
"Looka here, what's so bad that it's makin' you cry? Men don't cry. Believe me, honey, yore grandmama's got lots I could cry about. You don't have no idea. Yore gettin' my kitchen floor all wet. Now, you just take all that cryin' mess outside. Blow yore nose, too.”
If I scraped my knee or had a cut, she or Elizabeth, Miz Lena's maid, would tend to it. When Elizabeth was in charge of applying the mercurochrome and band aids, I knew I could count on her for some heartfelt empathy. With Grandmom, not so much. If she detected that I might start crying, she stopped me in my tracks every time, when she'd say, "You think this hurts, try gettin' run over by a truck."
Like I said, I was only 7, but still, you gotta admit, she had a point.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm glad 2016 is done and over. At times, over the past 12 months, it's felt like I've been run over by a truck. I hope and I pray that this new year is good to us all.
(About the writer: After nearly four decades in the entertainment industry, Bill Stamps and his wife, Jana, and their two dogs — Cowboy and Scout — left Los Angeles for Cleveland. Bill's father was morning man and general manager of WCLE back in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Bill attended grades 6-8 in Cleveland, and has come back to write a book about his childhood in the South. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook.)
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