Sunday, July 10, 2011

White-hatted Skipper of the Home Team

(This is in The Times and The News-Star today.)

No way it’s been 22 years.

My grandmother had a stroke back then, a few days before July 10, her birthday. She lived three weeks after and then died at 84, surrounded by family. I drove to Carolina three times that summer in a open-air Jeep. Helped carry her casket, with my cousins: Kevin, Steve, Randy and Sandy, me and Blake. She loved her grandsons more than her granddaughters, and it was not for anything that we had done. That’s just how she was, and I’m just saying.

She had a girl and four boys. They next-to-youngest is my father. She raised them mostly on her own, nursing at the little hospital in Mullins and nursing at home. She was a true ’round-the-clock nurse.

We still have pictures of her everywhere. My favorite is of her in her nurse’s uniform, when she was young but not so young that she was inexperienced. This is a picture of her in her nursing prime, full of confidence and energy. This is back when nurses wore little white creased caps and dresses, white hose and white shoes that look like baby shoes. I would think that today’s nurse is grateful for scrubs.

Regardless, the nurses of grandmama’s era and the Nike-wearing nurses of today are the same on the inside. Theirs are the hands that help the world get well.

Inez Skipper Allen. You don’t run into many Inez’s anymore. I miss the one I knew.

My grandmother was 4 feet, 10 inches. That’s stretching it. She was no threat to join the starting lineup of the Los Angeles Lakers, but I can testify that she “played big,” a power forward disguised in a white dress and a creased cap. If you messed with Inez, you would want to make sure your loins were girded, so to speak. Bad hombre. Long memory. Your best bet to stay on her good side was to be one of her grandsons.

What a break!

There are different kinds of grandmas, everything from sergeants to sweethearts. My Inez was a mix as most are, but she leaned a bit to the military side. You had to be tough at 4-feet-10, raising four boys with only one girl to have your back.

My dad and my uncles cried when I saw them at the hospital after her stroke and they cried when they buried her. She was once the best friend they had, and no one knew them better than my grandmama.

It’s funny what you remember. Her fried chicken. Homemade shortcake. A pound cake I never liked, waffles I always did. Her Bible on the TV set, its channels switched between “Guiding Light” and Jim Bakker, at that time the anti-guiding light. But again, once she bought in, either to a show or a personality or a grandson, you were riding the world’s rails on greased grooves.

It would be corny to say she’s tending to aches and pains in heaven. But, just for argument’s sake, maybe she gets to put a compress on somebody’s bruise now and then, Band-Aid a scratch. She did a lot of that down here, for me and some guys in my family. She wanted us to be better, even if it hurt at first.

So I remember her as a grandson should, as someone who made it better. I remember her as a safe place to be.