Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grandma Wright-Lawhorne

Dave Barry posted a link to an article today about a new fashion trend: Women/models shaving or waxing their eyebrows. He opined that this gives them all of the sexy allure of a lightbulb. I don't disagree, but I was reminded of my grandmother. Grandma Lawhorne (Grandma Wright for the first 11 years of my life, until she remarried) used to pluck her eyebrows until she had removed them completely, then pencil them in thinly with an eyebrow pencil. This was apparently quite fashionable in the '30s and '40s, and is a trend she followed her entire life. Unfortunately, after years of doing this her eyebrows stopped growing back. Also, she had a less-than-steady hand with the eyebrow pencil, so invariably one of her eyebrows would be higher than the other, giving her a permanent surprised look.

Anyway, I wrote this remembrance of her for her funeral in June of 2007. Since I'm thinking of her, I thought now would be a good time to post it:


When my college friends and I were first getting to know each other, we frequently exchanged stories about our families—our histories, hometowns, schools and relatives. Of course, we all tried to keep the various family members straight: Is that your Italian grandmother or the one who lives in Georgia? Do you mean your married sister or the one at UVA? I quickly learned that my stories about my grandmother had taken on a certain flavor when one of my friends asked me, "Is that the grandmother who's a great cook but can't drive?"

Yes, that would be the one.

As for her driving, what can I say? Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, passengers in Grandma's car were frequently forced to contemplate their own mortality—or at least to reflect seriously on their insurance coverage. She zoomed around town—one foot on the brake, one on the gas—a menace to everyone on the road. And the sidewalk. Even parked cars and buildings weren't safe. We frequently marveled at her ability to retain her license, but I think Mark was correct in assessing that no police officer wanted to be the one to give this sweet little old lady a ticket, so they just sent her on her way with a warning. If only they knew…

But as bad as her driving was, her cooking… well, that was in a category of it's own, as well, but for far different reasons. Grandma didn't just fix dinner. She put on a spread, worthy of the farm she was raised on and the eleven siblings that grew up around her table: Two kinds of meat, three vegetables (including, always, a green and a yellow one), homemade pickles, gravy and biscuits. Oh, those biscuits! Mom once tried to get her recipe and quickly realized that it was hopeless. Grandma made biscuits with instinct and skill that required no recipe. She just threw the ingredients together until they "were right"—measuring the flour with a broken teacup and adding the other ingredients with a practiced eye and a pinch or this or that.

And she always had at least two desserts in case someone didn't like one of the choices. The only thing that she could never master in the kitchen was making a cake from a mix. She would read the instructions that told her to simply add water and would exclaim, "You can't make a cake like that!" and would then proceed to add extra eggs, milk, oil, shortening, flavoring—whatever she thought was missing. The result was frequently a dense mess, riddled with toothpicks used to hold the layers together (we kids learned early on to cut the cake bites into small pieces with our forks before eating unless we wished to be speared).

But as wonderful as her cooking was, it was merely a reflection of what was really behind it: Hospitality. Grandma's house was always open to all, and visitors were welcomed with a comfortable place to sit, a big glass of tea or lemonade or an ice-cold Coca-Cola, and an invitation to a meal which few had the willpower to decline. Her brothers and sisters and their families gravitated to her home and her kitchen, as did her friends and neighbors. Grandma didn't always keep up with what was going on in the world and couldn't tell you what the latest Washington, DC scandal was about or who was starring in the latest movies, but she knew where all of her family members were and how they were doing and kept track of the ladies in her Sunday School class, the ladies she used to work with and both her siblings and Grandaddy Wright's eleven siblings and all of their families. If she didn't know the details, she knew the generalities of where everyone was living and their general state of health and well-being. Perhaps being from such a large family and marrying someone from an equally large family contributed to her ability to welcome anyone, any time to her home, but wherever the impulse came from, she lived the Christian virtue of hospitality as well as anyone I have known.

In Hebrews we are instructed, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Any angel who may have had the good fortune to show up at Grandma's door would have left comforted and well-fed, and probably carrying a doggy bag with a slice of cake or a few cookies for the road.

Finally, when I remember Grandma's delightfully batty personality and her conversational leaps that no amount of logic would allow you to follow, I can't help but smile. But what I remember, too, is that she was the first person to laugh at herself. Isn't that a wonderful legacy? To have provided comfort and caring and laughter to her family and friends. I'm sure that where she is now, she is calling together all of her brothers and sisters, clucking and fussing and making sure that they are all ok. And well-fed.

I love you, Grandma, and I'll miss you.

Sharon Wright Bower

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