Today is Grandparents Day. My parents had me later in life, so I missed the pleasure of knowing three of my four grandparents.
But the one grandparent I knew was most memorable. My mother’s mother, Nellie Pender Smith Hinely, was a tall woman. Even though her knees were locked with arthritis and she walked with a distinctive side to side gait, she had perfect posture.
In fact, she looked a little imposing. She, like my mother, said, “I only say things one time. I don’t repeat myself. So listen carefully.” I did. I was not sure what would have happened if I didn’t get it the first time, but I didn’t want to find out!
Grandmother always had a boldness and confidence that came from a center of knowing what she wanted and what she did not. She was educated as a teacher, but did not enjoy teaching.
She left the expected career choice and was one of the first women to have a job with the railroad. Even in that time, there were women like my grandmother and her sister who were breaking glass ceilings.
She married Elliott Hinely, who ran a lumber mill in Rincon, Georgia. They bought some land and built their dream house where they would live for the rest of their lives. My parents were married in the parlor of that house.
She raised four children to adulthood. My mother said she was strict, but never punitive. My mother said she had a look that kept everyone in line without her raising a finger.
Grandmother liked to read. She read books for hours on end. She read The Bible cover to cover multiple times. She even subscribed to magazines of the day, including Cosmopolitan, before it became risqué.
I Raised You Better Than That!
One of my favorite stories was of my Uncle Vernon, Who eloped. He wanted to come home and “tell Mama,” but he was too scared of her reaction.
Finally he decided to test the waters. He came home. He found Grandmother sitting in her chair, reading. She looked up and calmly said, “You’ve been gone for awhile.” No questions. Just a statement. Then silence.
Uncle Vernon said he was shaking all over. Finally in a gush of words he told her he had eloped with Louise. He said Grandmother looked up straight at him with no expression he could translate, and then returned to her reading.
More time passed as he sat with his mother in uncomfortable silence. Finally she closed her book, looked up again and asked matter of factly, “Where is your wife?”
He mumbled that she was in the car. Grandmother then expressed herself clearly. “You left your wife in the car?? Get her and bring her in. I raised you better than to leave your wife in a hot car!”
Aunt Louise said she was terrified, but when she came in, “Miss Nellie” welcomed her warmly.
In fact, for quite a few years Aunt Louise and Uncle Vernon lived upstairs in my grandmother’s house with her living downstairs.
The Run For The Toys
My Grandmother took to grandparenting with as much enthusiasm as she tackled the rest of her life. She had a bag of toys she kept in a closet under the steps and every grandchild looked forward to emptying it and seeing what new things had been added since our last visit. And we all knew the absolute rule that every toy had to be returned to its proper place before we left.
Let Her Go!
Grandmother was a little more daring with her grandchildren than our parents were. I longed to go upstairs and slide down the bannister. My parents said no. They thought it was too dangerous.
When my grandmother heard me begging my mother once again to let me do it just once (I had seen my cousin sneak and do it when no one was looking), she said to my mother, “Pearl, why are you saying no to that child?” My mother said she was afraid I might fall. My grandmother said, “She might. Then she will have an opportunity to learn how to get up.”
And then she gave my mother one of those looks and added, “And you, Pearl, might learn how to not be afraid.”
Mr. Wattie’s store was across two roads and a railroad track from my grandmother’s house. He had the best candy anywhere, including my favorite, a candy called Mary Janes.
I longed to go to his store, but I was only permitted to do so if an adult was going to go with me. I was very sad when I wanted to go, but no adult was available.
One day, my grandmother found me in a funk on the front steps, looking longingly across the road. I explained my dilemma. She said, “Well let’s see what your mother has to say about this.”
She called my mother and said, “Pearl, are you still working on not being afraid? I believe it is time to let Carolyn go to the store.” My mother explained she could not go right then. My grandmother repeated, “I believe it is time for Carolyn to go to the store … by herself.”
My mother looked horrified. My grandmother then proceeded to give me step by step instructions on how to safely cross roads and railroads. She then let me try crossing one road and returning, ever under her watchful eye. Then it was crossing one road and the railroad and coming back. Then crossing both roads and the railroad and coming back. And finally crossing all the way over to Mr. Wattie’s store and coming back with my prized candy.
Someone always had to watch me make the trek, but from that day forward, I went alone. I learned safety, confidence and how good it felt to be trusted. And that candy was really good!
Never Give Up On Anyone!
My grandmother was consistently kind. She never returned evil for evil. She never returned unkindness for unkindness.
My grandfather ran a lumber mill. Mr. Smith (name changed) became miffed about some business dealing. He refused to speak to my grandparents. Apparently this went on for years.
Mr. Smith’s morning walk took him past my grandparents’ house. Each time my grandmother was sitting on the porch, she would call out cheerfully, “Good morning, Mr. Smith.”
Mr. Smith would deliberately turn the other way and refused to speak. However, my grandmother never gave up. And then the day came when right in the middle of Mr. Smith’s walk, there came a downpour of rain. He got soaked and still had a ways to go to shelter.
Grandmother again cheerfully called out, “Good morning, Mr. Smith,” this time adding, “Would you like to come and sit until this storm lets up?”
As the story went, Mr. Smith said, “I believe I will. Thank you, Miss Nellie.” He sat with her and they talked and from that day on, were friends. My mother told me that story to emphasize never giving up on people.
Miss Nellie’s Home-going
My Grandfather died suddenly one night of a major heart attack. Grandmother lived many years after that independently. While there were plenty of offers for her to live with relatives, she declined. She adjusted her life, as more and more challenges of age beset her, but she continued to enjoy every moment.
She died unexpectedly following surgery for a peptic ulcer. I was still a child, who had had limited experiences with death. But I knew there was a great “disturbance in the force.” Besides my grandmother being gone, my ever steady mother was distraught in a way I could not understand … until she died many years later, and I was inconsolable.
My mother told me Grandmother hated black clothes and had earlier told her she hoped none of her family would wear black to her funeral. My Mother said no one planned how to dress for her funeral, but at one point, she looked up and realized that everyone had worn bright colors, a virtual rainbow of celebration of a life well lived.
I do remember they sang the hymn Rock of Ages at her funeral. It seems appropriate. She was a Rock of faith, determination, and persistence. She loved The Lord and taught her children and grandchildren to love Him too. And I hope her story will continue to resonate down through the ages.