My beloved grandmother, Annabelle Elsine Klay White, would have been 102 years old on March 24. She was my mom’s mom, whom my brother and I called Anna, because when I was born she was only 27 and not ready to be a Mimi or Maw-Maw or Granny. (As an aside, my other grandmother felt exactly the same way when I was born–I was the first grandchild on both sides–and all 14 of her grandchildren called her by her first name for all her life.)
Most other people called my Anna “Ann.” My Grand-dad usually did, but he would sometimes call her Annabelle in a special voice, just that little special voice you hear between two people who have been married since the end of World War II.
Not everyone saw Anna as excessively warm or emotional. She could be a serious nag. But she was a pretty great grandmother. When she knew we would be visiting, she would tape a soft sponge over the sharp corner of a particular counter that my brother often banged his head on when we were running around in the house. Since he was shorter than me, I would maybe bump that corner but he could really hurt himself on it.
Anna rinsed out and re-used foil paper. She rinsed out and re-used her water glass. But, she and Grand-dad did splurge, in a sense, on bottled water delivered from Kentwood (probably much better known as the birthplace of both Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears).People in Thibodaux, the small Louisiana town where they were living at the time, got their water from the Mississippi River, and their community was one of the first to adopt bottled water for both drinking and cooking.
She had high blood pressure, and she cooked without salt. She fussed unrepentantly at all of us when we salted our food. She worried about all the chips we ate.
She always had a jar of “silver bells” (our name for Hershey’s Kisses) in the kitchen.
When I was quite small, she would let me “cook” next to her at the stove. She pulled up a stepstool for me and turned one of the burners on the special “barely more than room temperature” setting that only small children use, then put a pan of faucet-warm water on it. She showed me how to turn the handle away from me so I wouldn’t accidentally knock it and spill what I was cooking. I would put ketchup, hot sauce, Pickapeppa sauce and every spice in her pantry in my “soup.” Anna kept stale pasta and a few cups of dried beans and peas in little jars in the pantry so I could add them to my creation. I always knew it wouldn’t be edible, but I had so much fun cooking and just yakking at her. I was a motormouth from the age of about two minutes.
Anna always let me and my brother do things that I imagine would at least bother if not horrify another grandparent. She had a small sandbox that we could bring out in the backyard and play with. She let me play with (almost) all her jewelry. We colored with our paper laid out on the carpet, floor or furniture, and there were no washable markers in those days. I think she knew we were both cautious and somewhat anxious children. Maybe that’s why she let us do all these things.
I do know she trusted me with her amazing vintage typewriter, with which I was fascinated. She used it to type letters to our Mom and both of us kids on small stationery that must have been frustrating, but I think saving paper was also important to her. I typed all kinds of things on that typewriter, and I know for a fact that her encouragement of reading, typing and even “interviewing” my grandparents on Grand-dad’s hand-held recorder was a contributor to my love of all things journalistic. I remember that they gave me The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings trilogy for my 11th birthday. Phew. That was a monumental moment for me in so many ways!
Anna was also one of the relatives most concerned for me after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 21. She worried about me so much, and she often sent me articles about treatments she had seen. After I had my first knee replacement, she fretted about me driving a manual-transmission car with a clutch that I had to press with my non-replaced knee. She finally talked my Grand-dad into agreeing they would buy me an automatic car. They bought me a car! It was a beautiful little black Honda Civic that I loved to pieces and drove for 10 years.
After my mother and grandfather crossed over, my brother and I were the relatives nearby who could care for Anna. She began showing signs of Alzheimer’s, and caregiving became harder and harder. But the hardest thing for me was her confusion about the disease. She had been an incredibly sharp lady, and in the early stages she knew enough to understand something bad was happening to her. I remember once when I sat next to her at the end of her bed and held her hand while she cried, asking over and over, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I remember things?” She remembered enough to know she was losing her ability to remember.
Gosh, I really loved her. She had told me several years before she died what she wanted for her funeral, and I followed all of her wishes except one. She asked me to sing “In the Garden,” and I couldn’t do it–I knew I would just cry and not finish. So I played a version of it that I thought she would have liked on my iPhone. I felt so bad about that for a long time, until at some point I realized of all people, she would have forgiven me for that.