Friday, March 12, 2010


Today is my paternal Grandmother's birthday. As long as I am living I will celebrate her birthday. Grams was a wonderful role model for all of us and always gave me unconditional love. That is what I hope my grandchildren remember of me. We weren't allowed to misbehave, mind you, but we always knew we were cherished and loved by a very strong, loving woman.

My grandmother is truly a woman of French heritage. Her grandparents were Parisians before they came to New Orleans. Her grandfather was an attorney and later a judge. While he was an attorney he was challenged to a duel by a former client. Not a wise idea for the poor client. As the person that was the recipient of the challenge, her grandfather was given the choice of weapons to be used in the dual. He was an expert marksman with a pistol, so of course, that was what he chose. Fifty paces and I'm afraid it was not a good out come for the client. 

A beautiful and adored young child, with one sibling, her brother Alfred. Grams shared memories of visiting her grandparents home on Esplanade Avenue and having her parrot whistle and hail the street car. They eventually had to move the parrot from the front porch to the back yard because of the street car drivers' complaints!

Grams was a true New Orleanian to her core! She loved our city...from City Park and the lagoons to uptown and the Zoo! When she was young she had a skiff she used for fishing. When we were young she would take us to City Park to feed the ducks and geese and play on the swings. I think she enjoyed seeing us play and climb on the same lions as she!

I do believe I inherited my love of dogs, gardening and cooking from her. I've mentioned I wasn't fortunate to inherit her excellent seamstress ablilities. I'm thankful for what I did inherit. She loved to plant flowers, fruits and trees. I could spend hours peeking under the leaves of her strawberry plants checking for ripened strawberries or climbing in her fig trees picking figs. Grams had a gardner, Bill Taylor. He helped maintain trellises for the arbors and keep her beloved rose bushes in tip top shape. 

My grandfather liked to grow grapes for his homemade wine. He also grew tomatoes and bell peppers. 
A funny story about the grapes and wine. A Church official was visiting when all of a sudden these popping noises came hurtling through the air, up the staircase from the basement below! It seems it had grown so hot in the New Orleans summer that the corks started popping out of Paw Paw's homemade wine. Grams was mortified as she was a tee totaling Christian Scientist. My Dad never tired of the story and laughed heartily with each telling. He would mimic the popping noises going POP POP POP, chuckling after each POP!

Grams' first born was my Dad. Her second son was Richard, or Dick as she fondly remembered him. 

Dick died young, he was Dad was fourteen.

 Grams was a proud Mother...her family was her world. Grams was the quintessential homemaker. She could de feather a chicken or goose. She cooked everything from scratch. Her home was always spotless. She had a housekeeper that came once a week for the 'heavy' cleaning and ironing, Francis. But Grams kept everything spic n' span until Francis returned. LOL, I even think she used Spic n' Span as a cleaning agent. No clutter anywhere in her house, why didn't I inherit that gene? OK my children, enough from the peanut gallery...!
I remember once visiting a cousin's home with my grandmother. I was a young wife at this time so I was 'keeping' house myself. After we left my cousin's home Grams commented on the dust bunnies in the I didn't notice and I'm sure they were cousins of my dust bunnies!

Grams loved to share story after story about Dick. According to my grandmother, Dick was not as serious as my Dad was as a child. Lighthearted and more mischievous. Knowing some of the pranks my Dad did as I child I think my Dad was perhaps better at flying under her radar!
 I was entrusted with some of Dick's childhood creations and the photograph she kept of him on her desk. She said she knew I would keep them and not throw them away. My second born son's middle name is Richard, in honor of her second born son.  So yes, I display the photo and keep mementos of the uncle I never met. For Grams. 

In order to make sure we each had special time with our grandparents we grandkids were treated to a rotation of Friday night sleepovers with our paternal grandparents. We were taken either to a restaurant of their choosing or our favorite home cooked meal. I remember Friday evenings of 'Flicka' and grillades and grits. On the nights we would eat out, A & G cafeteria or Wise's cafeteria, The Smokehouse and Fitzgeralds's were  favorite choices of theirs. 
Saturday mornings Grams' homemade crepes and her homemade stewed apricots and prunes. Without a doubt my grandmother was a wonderful cook of creole cuisine! 

Grams also loved to include her grandchildren on her travels. We would go to Ocean Springs with our grandfather, his sister Weenie, and Grams. The photo above shows my Mom and Dad coming to pick us up after a week spent with my grandparents in Ocean Springs. Grams was taking the picture, that's Paw Paw and Weenie with us. I'm the shrimp on the end. Actually we are standing in birth order. I've since read most children unintentionally arrange themselves in birth order for photographs.

Her brother, Alfred had a daughter Mary Anne. Mary Anne's husband was a diplomat for the United States, serving in France, Poland, and the USSR to name a few of his Ambassador assignments. My grandmother loved to keep a scrapbook of all of Mary Anne's travels and postings. Yes, I still have that too!

Uncle Alfred and Grams were very fond of each other! I remember him as being quiet but very kind. I found online a write up in a French newspaper in New Orleans, announcing Uncle Alfred's return to the city for his sister's wedding.

Grams loved to travel the globe. I remember trips to Iran when it was still ruled by the Shah. She went to Israel and Europe. After our grandfather passed away the rotation of vacations began in earnest! Lee and Patsy went to a Dude Ranch in Texas...Lee and I went to a Dude Ranch in Colorado! Later, when Patsy was older they travelled to well, Patsy, was it Sweden? Norway? I was invited as a young woman to travel with her to Hawaii, unfortunately my employer wouldn't allow me to leave. Should have had the sense to quit that job!

As a young woman she thought of herself as somewhat of a flapper! I know she kept a lifelong friendship with many of her friends. She would have them over for different activities. One of the groups she would meet with monthly 'hooked rugs'. I inherited one of her beautiful designs, but as it was wool, eventually it went the way of dry rot. Sigh...

Grams opened the first Christian Science Reading Room in the French Quarter. She and the hippies of the sixties had their own love fest of a Mary Baker Eddy order! A woman ahead of her times, she managed the family rental property. A business minded woman.  Grams was not a shy or retiring female at any time I knew her. She sometimes gave the appearance of a crusty old salt. But, those of us fortunate enough to see her soft and loving side felt it to our core. 

I lived a few houses away from Grams until I was three. It allowed us to spend a lot of time with our grandparents and make happy memories. A quick slam of a screen door and a scamper across a lawn and I was busy 'helping' with the gardening. 

When I was a young wife, my husband and I moved back to that same neighborhood. Even when it  was obvious we were outgrowing our house and the economy of New Orleans was in a downturn and we should relocate I refused to consider moving as long as Grams was living. I needed and loved all that she gave in love and knowledge to myself and my children.

One afternoon, I watched her from my window 'schooling' a tenant on how to maintain his lawn. Her finger was just a wagging at him. I knocked on the window and started wagging my finger at them. Fortunately, Grams had a wonderful sense of started her chuckling and then the tenant. I had a lifetime of that wagging finger. I figured her tenant could use some comic relief. The memory of that finger wagging brings smiles to my face. As an adolescent it made me furious...I am sure Grams thought that was just fine!

  One early am I was locked out of my house in my nightgown. It was when I was pregnant with my first child. It was raining hard...the kind of soggy, heavy downpour one experiences in New Orleans. I ran over to her house and frantically knocked on her door. She opened it and quickly dried me off, put me in one of her nighties and tucked me under her down feather comforter! Ohhh Heaven!

But what I know most of all about my grandmother is she loved her son. My Dad was her heart. He was her firstborn and then her only surviving child. Sometimes a hard place for him to be I think. A big responsibility. Didn't matter, he loved her dearly in return, and gave us a closeness with her we will always cherish!

Happy Birthday to the original Steel Magnolia!
I miss you so...


Amy Hall said...

Your Grams sounds like such a lovely woman, mother and grandmother! You have such a wonderful photo collection, they truly bring your post to life!


Sush said...

Thanks, Amy! She was my Grams...always there for us.

Laura Hoffman said...

This is a wonderful post!!!! I love the stories and the old pictures! How awesome :)

Sush said...

Perhaps a tale to be retold to future generations one day...;)!

Erin H. said...

Wow what a special post. Such great pictures, and I loved reading the stories! XOXO

Anonymous said...

Awesome job, Grams would be proud! As you mentioned when you and Dad moved back two doors away from Grams as a young married couple, I was born and lived a few doors away from Grams for my first 12 years! She was a very kind and caring lady who would always have a few cookies ready when her great grandsons knocked on the door! As a kid I never realized how special it was that I got to know my great Grandmother as well as I did...
I wish I knew then how special that time was, it went way too fast but those are cherished memories!

Sush said...

Oh Stevie,
I hope you know how she cherished those days! Her days were planned around which route you kids took to walk home from school. In the AM she was up in time to raise her kitchen window shade so she could watch you all on your way to school. In the afternoons, she switched to the 'lane' side of her house, and her den, so she could watch your return home from school.
Just so you know, you managed to make me cry reading your comment. Very touching, indeed!
Loves, Loves, Loves,

Sush said...

PS Erin,
I'm glad you liked it...I only wish she could have met all my lovely ladies...she would have loved each and every one of you!
xoxo Susie

lisa said...

I have heard a story or two about Grams before, but this post really brought her to life. I am glad that Tim can carry on a piece of someone who meant so very much to her.

Sush said...

Tim's blond hair and fair skin and fun filled nature reminded Grams of Richard very often. She would be in love with Lily!

Jen said...

What a touching description of what sounds like a wonderful woman! Lisa is right - she really came to life in the way you tell her story. That grandmother relationship can be incredibly special, and I speak from firsthand experience on that one for sure! Your post made me miss my Appie even more.

Sush said...

Thanks so much, but just the mention of Appie brought tears to my eyes! I truly miss that wonderful lady too! I do know she loved you all and was incredibly proud to your grandmother!

Anonymous said...

Lee says a few things for future reference to the young ones: Paw Paw's garden also always contained small red hot peppers which he used often on his food, and loved to trick his grandchildren into trying one. (I especially remember him adding them to his daily soup - Grams always made homemade vegetable soup in her pressure cooker - and other great soups.)

In the center flower bed he always had long, tall rows of sweet peas with beautiful multi-colored flowers which were prolific - we loved picking bouquets of them and making vases of fresh flowers when we were little. Also rows and rows of small, sweet strawberries which Grams used to make wonderful desserts for all of us. And of course we loved to pick/eat them, which we were supposed to gather them, not eat them, but Paw Paw would let us!

Talking about Grams' gardening, we have to mention that the center vegtable/fruit bed between the duplex and Grams' house was pretty much Paw Paw's territory while he was alive. Grams got the fruit trees, the rose beds, and the bricked landscaping beds around the house. Can't forget the night-blooming "serious (sp?)" that we all made special nighttime trips to be there for the exact annual moment that they opened and bloomed. And Paw Paw ALWAYS had a boutonniere when wearing a suit, which included a flower from the garden. The old-fashioned boutonniere was made with a small glass mini-vase that would tuck through the button hole on his lapel, thus keeping the fresh flower alive and concealing the mini-vase. Wish we had found that and kept it! Also always a pocket watch on a gold chain - I have at least one of the family watches here and will of course pass it along some day. And he used a gentleman's walking stick with a gold handle. Hats. ALWAYS very dapper!

Love the blue linked reference to a "dual" (that's duel for those of you who inherited the spelling gene - Susie did NOT), and I never knew all these details! Thanks for that! But I feel bad for the dead man's family OMG we killed a Bienvenu! Happily insults are no longer normally settled in this manner, but apparently Daddy and Bill came to the law as an inherited interest. Not to be miscontrued as females only inheriting pacifist tendancies, I can remember some pretty semi-bloodcurdling duels at 5910...

We need to tell the kids something else about Grams, and that is "who is Sloppy Magool..." I'll leave the fun of that to you, but I doubt there are any photos.

Discussing Mary Anne, I think you should research Walter Stoessel's career with the State Department, espcially since we have kids addicted to DC and longing to be Washingtonians.

Her trips abroad - don't forget Greece! She tromped all over the famous ruins of Athens. Also did she cross over to Turkey? - we all got orthodox crosses as souvenirs. I do not remember Iran - Patsy do you?

And the real estate investments - Patsy says those were inheritances. From her parents Grams received the real estate and Uncle Alfred received the stock. From Paw Paw she of course received more rental property and stocks, which all passed to Daddy.

Oh well, we could all write forever great memories of parents and grandparents,and so of course, the blog will go on forever!!! Eeek don't let our kids talk about us - they won't get it right. We need to write our own histories to keep it real, but that's like letting everyone read your diary. Pansies are indeed for remembrance...

Sush said...

I am loving how your are loving the blog...but what is a working gal like you doing up so late? Oh you are gonna be so unhappy with me later today.
Thanks for catching the typo, I do try and find them myself but I am sure I let some get by.
I do know Grams went to Iran because she gave me a bag of her travel brochures for the kids to use on projects and one of them was on Iran and she had other things in it from her trip there.
The flower we would go to see bloom on summer nights was a night blooming cereus. The blooms only last for one night but are very fragrant. The plants have lots of buds on them so you get more than one night to enjoy the flower.
Sloppy Magool was someone I thought of mentioning, but I always thought it was a mean thing Mom did by naming Grams' sewing dummy that particularly unkind name. I had a conversation with Grams once while helping her in her attic and she said she never really liked that name. So,I guess, 'nuff said.

Love you and love all your added history! It is addictive isn't it?

Shelly said...

What a loving testament to an amazing woman. Our world could certainly use more like her in this day and age.