Bluefield Daily Telegraph
My grandma Thelma’s friends were named Bee, Vacie, Mabel and Joe Anne. The four women lived within walking distance of each other’s front porches. Whenever I stayed at my grandma’s house, we would often go “visiting” in the afternoons. On hot summer days, I would tag along, kicking rocks and picking flowers along the side of the road.
I spent a lot of afternoons sitting at different kitchen tables. It was like a scene out of one of those late ’80s, early ’90s movies about southern women. I would study the room and listen to church and family talk. Their conversations flew above my ears, buzzing with stories that made no sense to a child. I sat patiently until one of grandma’s friends poured a glass of tap water, maybe juice or lemonade if I was lucky and put a few store-bought sandwich cookies on a napkin. I loved those visits and all those ladies who called my grandma a neighbor and a friend. I imagined growing up and having my own best friends as neighbors. My grandma, who lived alone, had a friend on every side.
You could always find Grandma at church, Big Lots Department Store, visiting a friend or sitting on the porch reading a book and drinking a glass of water or tea. She lived in a quiet neighborhood; there was no traffic to watch or as many friends to visit. Bee and Vacie passed away when I was young. That left only two friends to visit, but my grandma had a true southern view of life. Oh, she liked to go places and shop, wear high heels and visit family and friends. But she also liked the slower pace of life — the tradition of afternoon visits and front porch talks.
Grandma passed away in 2001 and the layout of the neighborhood changed with time. The brick house now belongs to my parents and the front porch is a welcome site. My dad can walk across the street and exchange greetings and sometimes cookies with our retired dentist, or walk through the back yard to talk to his friend Jerry about church. I am a visitor, tagging along, visiting the garage, where I sit and talk to Dad about my problems and dreams. On nice summer days, I ride out to their house just for the front porch. I bring a book, grab an ice cold drink and settle into a chair. I have porch envy; there is shade, a comfy chair and side tables. One can fall asleep on the small loveseat and wake up to a find the sun setting over the horizon.
I can’t write down Grandma’s words of wisdom or gather them together in a book. My grandma was quiet, often lost in thought and content to be among family. Many days, she would drive to our house unannounced to “visit.” I have often seen those books full of quotes and clichés from older generations. I am glad my grandma didn’t rely on clichés about chickens and eggs, or bowls of cherries. She led by actions and insisted on a southern way of life. She visited friends, attended church, wore heals and pearls and sat on the front porch.
It is hard to be a southern woman today. Some homes aren’t built with nice front porches. Books aren’t valued as much as iPods and cell phones. Sweet tea has too much sugar now and sadly, church isn’t a weekly priority. Facebook and text messaging have replaced those afternoon visits. Even high heels have been switched for flip flops. The southern way of life is more of lure for Hollywood movies, exploited by actors who spend months studying the accent. Tourist shops want to sell bumper stickers and T-Shirts with the words “GRITS,” (Girls Grown in the South) printed in bright, bold letters. I don’t need a T-Shirt to feel southern, or West Virginian. I know my roots because I watched my grandma live her life as a southern woman. Plus, I know how to make sweet tea, relax on the porch, dish up a casserole for a church potluck and how to value true friendships.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BDT Parsell.