GrandBitty, that’s what we grandchildren called her, except for Granddad who simply called her Bitty. My father and his siblings called her Mama. To me she was grand no matter what she was called.
Grand indeed was my maternal grandmother. She was like a mother hen over her seven boys and one girl. Later on, those under her wings included her grandchildren and those whom her children married. This became quite a number as the family grew. I didn’t know if this was how the nickname of Bitty began to take hold. It could also have been because she was a tiny woman. The wedding picture of my grandfather and grandmother on their wedding day shows her as very small in stature with a waist size that must have been the envy of every young woman of her era.
I was the first born grandchild and a girl at that but only on my father’s side of the family. I can only imagine everyone on my paternal side of the family was thrilled to see another female added to the family fold. Daddy had only one female sibling. I was almost an oddity until the other granddaughters arrived on the scene. Still, no grandchild born after me could hold title of being the first. I loved that. Oh yes I did.
My paternal Grandmother had a special warmth about her that was irresistible. It seemed to me that sweetness and love poured freely from every pore and I wanted to scoop up as much of that as I possibly could when I was around her. I remember the many comments of friends and neighbors after her death. They described her as loving, kind, caring, sweet woman with a pleasant nature. She was my saving grace, my angel, who gave me what I need most in life, unconditional love. I wanted to be just like her.
How blessed was I, I thought. I lived in the same neighborhood as both sets of grandparents so I could visit them when I got old enough to walk to their homes. My maternal grandmother was more of a no-nonsense kind of woman with a good heart but in my child’s eyes, I had to look harder for the love in her while GrandBitty exuded love, tenderness, and warmth without reservation or effort. The latter’s hugs just enfolded me in a protective, I’m-glad-to-see-you cocoon. Like a breath of fresh air I gulped it in greedily like a loved starved orphan.
At home I often felt love was something that was rarely expressed but if things were pleasant, if I wasn’t yelled at or I wasn’t hit with a belt, that was close enough. If my brother or I was able to make my mother laugh, keep her from being depressed or angry, then it almost felt like love. If Mama ever said, “I love you”, I don’t remember it. Daddy didn’t say he loved me either but somehow he was able to covey his love through other ways. For example, I must have been eight or nine and I can remember Daddy kissed me on the top of my head as he left for work. Did he get angry sometimes and yell? Oh yes he did but I never recall his spanking me or hitting me. Was it because I was a girl or was it that he wasn’t with us all the time like Mama was? Perhaps it was because his own father would beat his children with fists or belts that he vowed not to give in to hitting us. I recall his spanking my brother once with his hand
I’m not sure how but somewhere along the line, I got the impression, true or not, that I came through my childhood feeling that I was a burden or unwanted to some degree. I carried with me all the time (then and henceforth) that I was not good enough to be loved. I also carried with me a feeling that whatever happened that was not right or was unpleasant was my fault. For example once I can recall when I had been beaten with a belt because I had done something unacceptable though I cannot remember what it was. I was probably seven or eight. I do remember that time and many other similar times being beaten with a belt when I really had no idea that I had done anything wrong. This particular time, though, had a different twist. I was sent to bed crying. By the time I crawled into my bed I was whimpering. I just couldn’t cry anymore. After a few minutes my mother came to my bed. What was she going to do? I wondered. She sat down on the bed and in a softer voice she began to speak to me. “Why do you make me do these things to you?” she began. So now instead of finding comfort in my mother’s softer tone, the blame for what had happened was now fully mine. Now I knew for certain that anytime I was punished it was my fault and that I was a bad child. Looking back I think my mother was not really okay with beating us but she could not understand it nor change it even if she vowed to herself that she would; so, the only way it made sense to her was to blame me or my brother for what she did. At the time my child’s mind could not grasp that. All I knew was that I was responsible for the punishment because I couldn’t get it right – whatever “it” was. That was a heavy burden for a young child to carry for the rest of her life. My brother and I coped by trying to make Mama laugh so that she would be less angry or depressed. Sometimes it worked.
Is it any wonder then that I lapped up, soaked up and craved all the attention I could get from GrandBitty? She praised me for my efforts at playing the piano though my father also encouraged me but in a different way. GrandBitty would play Chinese checkers with me, share toast and honey with me, show me all the new things she had crocheted, knitted, sewed or other future projects she might be thinking about. And lemon drops! Oh, I remember she loved lemon drops and what a treat that was to receive them from her hands to mine. Her hugs were like a soothing balm to my confused and bruised idea of self. I got nothing but praise, love, and welcoming from her. Perhaps I gave her much of what she also needed in her life because what she gave me I gave back and it seem to work for both of us.
In my relationship with GrandBitty, I never lost sight of the fact that she was an older, wiser adult and I was the child yet many times she treated me as somewhat of an equal. Maybe you could say we connected soul to soul. One day we were sitting in rockers on her front porch having an adult-like conversation. I think it was evening and the sky was beginning to turn down the lights and to display the planets and stars on the stage for our entertainment. She looked up at the sky and asked me if I thought there was life on other planets. No one had ever posed such questions to me and I think I recalled the wonder of her even asking me what I thought. No one ever asked me what I thought. I was always told what to think, what to believe, what to do and not do. But she asked me my opinion. This amazing woman thought about things that were deep and if anyone else had such thoughts, no one but my beautiful grandmother ever shared them with me. She and I were very open souls exploring the infinite possibilities ever searching for something beyond, something more, something to help us understand our purpose for even being alive. I don’t know if you could call it spiritual but from this vantage point now upon which I stand and reminisce, I would say it was.
My grandmother was inquisitive when it came to God. The only time she got to go to any church was when they needed a pianist for their services. They would send someone for her and I imagine paid her a little something for her time so Granddad did not seem, to my knowledge, to object. I don’t know how many different churches she might have been exposed to during those years or if it was just one church but for some reason, I have the impression it was more than one. I think she had more questions than answers where her spiritual path was concerned but she did believe in God or a higher power. I was a lot like her in that respect and more. But, that’s another story.
Her husband, my grandfather, known as Oz, believed in God but to my knowledge never went to church. Even if he might have wanted to go, they never owned a car. Before he retired he rode his bicycle for quite a distance to work. Early in life, alcohol was the altar upon which he most worshiped, trying I imagine, to cope with his own pain and demons. He managed to hold down a job and plant a garden every year. He was always good to me but later in life I was told that he had a mighty temper which he felt free to leash upon his children when they were young. I think my grandmother was the light of his life but it was evident that he ruled the roost in that household.
My maternal grandmother, better known to me as Granny, was a devout Baptist. She never missed a Sunday without good reason and wanted all of her children and grandchildren, daughter’s and son’s-in-law to become Baptist if they were not already. Unlike GrandBitty, she knew exactly what spiritual road to take and maintain and what her family should do. I thought she might have a stroke when this Baptist girl married a Catholic but if it upset her, I never knew it. Unlike GrandBitty who died at 64, Granny lived to be 99 and I was privileged to know her much better in my adult years. The years had softened her it seemed to me and she was always very happy to see me and my children when we visited her. It was a different but also positive relationship that I had with Granny.
Yes, Bitty died much too young. I remember the day the phone call came. I had been going about my day taking care of my children and doing what all young mothers and wives did. It seemed to be a normal day like any other day. I lifted the ringing phone and said hello totally unaware of what I was about to hear. My mother was on the other end of the line and as calmly as she could, told me that my beloved grandmother was dead. I almost dropped the phone but my whirring mind collected itself enough to ask how and when had this unbelievable thing happen.. When Mama told me that she had been taken to the hospital the night before and died this terrible, unbelievable morning, shock and grief rolled over me before the anger burst through. It was then that I demanded to know why I had not been called when she went into the hospital. I could have gone there and I could have seen her one last time. I had been cheated of one last time with my grandmother. Mama explained that she had been taken to the hospital and that while it was about her heart, everyone expected that things were under control in the hospital and that she would be alive the next day so there was no need to call me. I think at that point I was crying and yelling at the same time and none of it made sense to me. For me to display anger about anything was taboo. Anger towards my mother was unacceptable but this time I didn’t care. I felt that my parents had denied me the gift of seeing my grandmother one more time. Nothing could contain neither that fury nor my grief. Later I realized that I had something that no one could take from me and that was the gift that my grandmother had been to me.
My Bitty made me feel loved and wanted and in her presence I was able to get a glimpse that strengthened me during my tender years. She used to tell me that I would probably grow up to be a singer like the ones we saw on television. My mother scoffed at that as though my grandmother was filling my head with impossible dreams and ideas. But I held onto every positive thing my grandmother said to me. I learned to be open and inquisitive about many things and to entertain ideas that did not match what society in general and my family to some extent, was telling me. She had a hard life but she was a dreamer and without knowing it she gave me exactly what I needed to help me cope better for the rest of my life than perhaps I would have otherwise. She gave me the love and acceptance that I so desperately needed. She was my guardian angel and so much more. In fact, I think she probably still is.