Sunday, October 16, 2011

She's a Lady

"Grandmothers are just antique little girls."-author unknown. Pictured above is Grandma with her great-great grandaughter Madison Fletcher.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Steel Magnolias. It's one of those films I can watch over and over again and laugh and cry just as hard as I did the first time I saw it. One of the reasons I love it is because the women are strong ladies and are connected across 3 generations, and so many of the characters remind me of women from my family.

Recently we celebrated the 93rd birthday of the "steel magnolia" of the Bryant family, my grandmother Margaret Bryant. As I look back upon the life of this incredible lady, I am amazed at the events she has encountered in her lifetime-the triumphs, tragedies, the changes she has witnessed. This blog post is dedicated to her and the wonderful influence she has had and continues to have on the lives of her family and all who know her.

When I think of people in their 90s, words like elderly, feeble and bedridden come to mind. For those reading this who know Margaret Bryant, none of those labels apply to her. I would use words such as graceful, classy, spry, strong, dignified, and grateful. This is a lady who has a weekly hair appointment, goes to church each Sunday and then out to eat after the service. She watches Fox News, listens to WKYR, and reads the Courier-Journal each day, which allows her to be more up-to-date on current events than most people half her age. Grandma quilts and reads and keeps her mind busy so she can stay sharp. At her worktable in the den you will see pictures of her 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter, along with her quilting supplies, peppermints, and lotion. She insists on cooking food to bring for each family gathering and everyone-grown-ups and kids alike-look forward to eating her green beans that no one else can make that tastes as good as hers. In a nutshell, Grandma is who I want to be when I grow up.

Margaret Shelley was born in Beaumont, KY in 1918. As the oldest girl of 5 children, she learned to cook at an early age. While still a young girl, her mother Pauline became very ill and could not see to her children. I remember grandma telling me of a time when she was trying to slice a ham to prepare for the family and couldn't do it. She carried the ham to her mother's bed and asked her to slice it. Her mother cried as she did so and handed the platter back to her young daughter. Grandma reflects upon this story and said at the time she remembers thinking her mom was crying because she was tired and felt bad. Later, she realized the tears were falling because her mother knew she was dieing and leaving 5 children behind. Grandma's own eyes misted over and said, "Can you imagine the burden she took to her grave?" With tears in my own eyes now, I surely cannot. Having to care and help provide for her siblings at such a young age molded her into the woman we all love and adore. She is strong, honest, hard-working, intelligent, and classy, again-everything I hope to be.

In her life time she has seen 17 US Presidents, lived through World War II, the Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, a man walk on the moon, the Berlin Wall come down, and the 9/11 terror attacks. Inventions such as computers, cell phones, and modern age automobiles. Which brings to mind another one of my favorite stories about how her father used to carry the mail by horse from Glasgow to Burkesville before there was a highway 90. He would travel by creek bed. It is mind-boggling when I think of all she has experienced in 93 years.

Also mind-boggling is her cooking. A few Christmases ago my aunt Sharon put together a cook book of Grandma's recipes. With each page I can see, smell, and taste the food as only she can prepare it. From her classic potato salad, pot roast, homemade angel food cake, to the lemon cake that my daddy loved so much, memories and happy images of family gathered together flood my mind. I can see Papa John settling in his recliner with his belt loosened after one of her feasts, and I can visualize younger versions of her grandchildren Chris, Beth, myself, Spencer, Allison, and Alan sitting around the bar drinking Coca-Cola from the small glass bottles she kept stocked for us, as our mothers reminded us for the millionth time to stop spinning the stools. I remember my daddy and Papa John huddled around the TV watching the game, while Jan, Sharon, Mom ,and Grandma would get the food ready. Good times, great memories that are priceless to me that revolve around her being the heart of the home.

It has been said that behind every strong man is an even stronger woman, and that is very true concerning my grandparents. Papa John and grandma were married for 75 years, which in her own words, is longer than most people live, much less live together. Papa John had the "tough guy" exterior, but we all knew who kept the household together. Growing up I was afraid of the spanking Papa John threatened to give us with the tobacco stick (of course he never did) but I was more afraid of disappointing grandma. Today with each visit to her house, my girls love to sit at the piano and try to bang out a tune. Each time grandma will say that the piano is one of the items she insisted on purchasing that Papa John didn't agree with, but she held her ground and won that battle. I love the sparkle of mischeif she has in her eyes as she remembers that time.

Grandma is the matriarch of our family and we are all so blessed to have her as a role model and example of how to stay strong through adversity. At 93 she has outlived all of her siblings, her husband, most of her friends, and one of her children. She deals with pain each day both physical and emotional, but refuses to feel sorry for herself. She has often said, "There are people out there who have it  a lot worse than me." On days when I feel stressed, am having a pity-party, I think of her and I am instantly humbled and ashamed for feeling sorry for myself. That's one of the many lessons she has taught me. Business woman, mother, grandmother, wife, friend, Christian, quilter, cook, reader, and storyteller. All words that I associate with Margaret Bryant. Never wanting the spotlight on herself, she would never take credit for the great things she has accomplished. Reminding me again of a magnolia, quiet, dignified grace. Not flashy or showy, but beautiful and elegant. That's my grandma. Much love to you and thank you for the gifts you have given and continue to give to your family.

Here are some photos of this wonderful lady:

Here is one of her recipes that yet again, I can never duplicate to where it is as good as hers.

Cherry Delight
9 inch graham crumb crust
1 8 oz. package of cream-cheese, softened
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup of lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 can of prepared cherry pie filling

Let cream cheese stand at room temperature until cheese is softened. Beat until fluffy. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk while stirring until thoroughly mixed. Add lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix well and pour into pie crust. Chill 2-3 hours in refrigerator before garnishing top of pie with cherry pie filling.

Much love,

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