My grandmother Doris was born in 1916 in Jenkinsburg, the youngest of four daughters and just older than her only brother. By the time I
came along she was 49 years old, had had three children, one of whom she lost in childbirth, had raised the other two along with my
grandfather and had two grandsons. I was the first child of her youngest daughter. I never knew exactly when we started to call her
Dot but it stuck and Dot she would be known as by her four grandsons and her six great-grandchildren.
I cannot speak of the relationship she had with my two first cousins or my brother because those are unique to each of them. I can only speak of my own relationship with her and what I observed of her in the many years I was fortunate to have her in my life. I can recount many trips she and I made to the various local cemeteries to beautify the graves of those she felt a personal responsibility towards, whether they were family or friends, and how instructive to me those trips were in learning of my deep seated family roots that have now spanned eight generations in this county. A trip to the Jenkinsburg cemetery, within easy walking distance of their home became a work day taking care of the Woodward, Bailey and Moore family graves, plus others that were added over the years. This usually resulted in new flowers on family graves, inspecting everyone else’s graves and making sure the flowers hadn’t tipped over and putting them back if they had, pulling weeds and removing debris, smoothing over the marble chips and anything else she could think of while the midday sun bore down on top of you. If there was a lot of work to do, my grandfather loaded up the needed supplies in his pickup truck and we rode over there, then usually out to Fellowship cemetery where even more Woodward family members were resting, then down to Jackson to check on the Caston and Barber family sites, and finally back to their house. My grandmother’s storage building(s) were stocked full of plastic flowers which she rotated through the year at the various graves…lilies at Easter, poinsettias at Christmas and various seasonal arrangements for other times of the
year. Of course, at certain other times, there were fresh cut flowers from her garden, reserved for the special few like her parents and later, her husband.
While she was working, I would hand her what she needed and ask questions about the various stonework in the cemetery. As she arranged, cleaned and fixed things, she would relate to me the history of her family and the four generations of Woodward that had preceded her in Butts County and most of whom were resting in that cemetery or
out at Fellowship. She also explained the various family connections to other names in the cemetery such as the Moore family (her mother’s line) and the Bailey family (her grandmother’s line), as well as other various ancestors and cousins. Many of these conversations were repeated each time we went to the cemetery until they were as familiar
to me as the streets of Jackson and impossible to forget. For years, I thought she must go ALL the time because we went every time I went to visit. Later, when I was older, my grandfather told me she really didn’t go as much as I thought she did-she usually waited until I came up there to go with her. Apparently, I made the time go by quicker and the work more enjoyable when she had someone to talk to, boss around and pass things on to. In the summer, the work was hot but the reward was a BLT made with tomatoes grown fresh from the garden and a cold glass of ice tea. When I got older and could drive, I would still go up there when she needed me and drive her to the cemetery loaded with things to do. As time went in and she got older, she would direct moreof the work to me, pointing to this and that and I would oblige, although I never had her eye for detail. She was not always an easy person to really get to know because she never engaged in deep conversation or emotional discourse sufficient to glimpse the inner person that she was but nevertheless, I was always drawn to her and enjoyed the time she and I spent together.
She could be very blunt at times but even when her words were scathing, her tone betrayed humor and lightness….she could scold but do it in such a way that you only felt her love for you. She was not highly educated but was a voracious reader, something I know I inherited from her and she loved books, magazines and newspapers, which she read every single day until her health limited even this light vocation. She was a veritable news clipping service and her side table by her chair would always be strewn with articles she clipped from the newspapers, usually with the name of a recipient written in her hand at the top to remind her who she clipped the article for so that it would make its way to its intended target. For me, she clipped articles about watches, cars and pens; for others it might be gardening, recipes, book reviews or any one of countless other
subjects. She knew her family members well and she knew through careful observation and listening, those things which interested them and she clipped accordingly.
She enjoyed television but always television that stimulated her mind and added to her vast store of knowledge. She enjoyed watching the news, anything to do with National Geographic, anything to do with wildlife, national parks and homemaking. She never flew in her entire life so her travels were limited to North America but she took many
trips in her lifetime to pretty much every state in the continental US, plus Canada and Mexico. If it could be reached by automobile and if it could be done between her obligatory trips to the beauty parlor, she went there, photographed it and committed the experience to memory. She knew more about the physical layout of the United States
than anyone I knew and this from a person who only drove a car one time in her life with disastrous results.
After my grandfather died, she decided to stay at home alone and lived by herself for the next ten years. I would be at home and the phone would ring, and this is how it would go:
Me: Yes Dot?
Her: I want you to come up here and set my clocks for me
Me: Alright Dot, I’ll be up there as soon as I can.
Her: Good, then we can go get something to eat after you set the clocks.
Me, smiling knowingly: So in other words, Charlotte is busy tonight.
Her: Yes, she has gone out with so and so.
Me: Alright, I’ll be there in a few minutes.
Of course by the time I got there she was already sitting in the passenger seat of the car ready to go. You see, with her it was Never “would you mind” or “can you please” it was “I want you to”. That was her way of saying “I am your grandmother and I love you and I want to see you”.
She was many different things to other people. She did special things for people which many never knew of. She felt that anyone she cared about deserved a decent place to rest when their life ended and many graves in our home county are marked by monuments she paid for because the family in question couldn’t afford to do it. She also checked on those graves and attended them if they needed weeding, cleaning or beautification. She grew some of the most beautiful roses in the county and she would often clip the cream of her crop and take these to people who were shut in or who just needed a bright spot in their day. She also baked cakes, cooked food and canned vegetables for people and these made their rounds as well. If someone was sick, she cooked and if something needed doing, she did it or she told my grandfather do it. I am not trying to paint a picture of her as a saintly woman because she could get mad and let fly a few choice words but she was the only person I knew who could back my Uncle Bailey into a corner when she got her temper up.
She loved her children and doted on her grandchildren until the day the first great-grandchild was born; then we all moved into second place and the great-grandchildren became the center of the universe; first two came along, then another one a few years later, then after severeal years, three more came along. They were six more reasons for her to press on and enjoy life. Most of all though, she loved her husband. They were so dependent on each other and devoted to each other, yet they could fuss and fight with each other that to an outsider it would seem they couldn’t stand to be around each other, yet the family could see right through this and we used to laugh so hard at the way they would pick at each other. The day he died, he waited until all the family had left the room and it was just the two of them in there when he drew his last breath. Fourteen years later, to the day, she joined him at last, leaving her family with a lifetime of wonderful memories of her and experiences that have enriched our lives.
What did she do for me though? She spent time with me, laughed at my jokes, taught me about my family history, made sure my manners were above reproach, brought me Juicy Fruit chewing gum and Musketeer bars, made bacon-lettuce/tomato sandwiches for me, made me a lemon cake for my birthdays, bought me new ties, brought me maple syrup from Vermont, helped me pick up pecans, made biscuits for me at Sunday dinners, let me spend the night at her house when I was a kid, ran through hundreds of slides from her trips and narrated where each picture was taken, let me play her piano as long as I wanted, taught me the difference between a Cardinal and a Bluejay, let me fill the bird feeders, gave me the benefit of her wisdom and her opinion, was the first to come to the hospital to see my son when he was born, made me proud to be a United Methodist and made me proud to be her grandson. This just scratched the surface.
My grandmother was one of the most powerful characters in my life. I was enriched by her constant participation in my life and by her love for me expressed in all that she did. She was my friend and my confidant, but mostly she was my grandmother and I will always be her grandson. I know she is with those she loved in life who went on before her. Today, her body wwent to go to rest in that place with all those she has looked after for many years. I don’t think she ever feared this day though because that place is as familiar to her as the home she lived in for sixty years and she has been working on it for so many decades now. Today I close the final page on a long and meaningful life, a life not always easy but one lived to the fullest.