Southern Women, Part III: The Matriarch.

Then there's my grandma, or Nana as she is more commonly know. That woman. I could make half a million ten page posts about that woman, and it wouldn't be enough to explain her. She was born into a family of about a million kids, somewhere near the end, in a poor-ass rural town in Alabama. I'm talking no shoes, cotton picking, brushing their teeth with chewed-on branches of dogwood poor. The details of her young life are still sketchy to me, because we, being Southern women, don't like to dwell on the details of misfortune. Fake it till you make it is her favorite expression -- one I've seen her live and breathe for going on 25 years now. But it wasn't an easy life. She left home when she was 17 and went on to study her ass off while working to help support herself while staying with her older sister (Opal -- my aunt who just passed) in Kansas, where one night while dragging on the main strip in town, she met my grandfather.

This is one of my grandfather's (many, many, many) favorite stories to tell over and over again. Generally, my grandmother sits there with a stoic and sarcastic look on her face while he tells it, rolling her eyes all the while at his sentimentality, but she never contradicts a single detail, except to jump in and explain what an idiot she thought he was at the time, and how she wasn't about to put up with his crap, not for one second.

Nana was dragging with her best friend, and Papa was dragging with his. Papa and his buddy had set out that evening with a plan. At the time, they were sailors in the U.S. Navy. They had donned their uniforms, knowing they would be a hit with the ladies, and were going to use the fake story of being in town only for a couple of days before setting out to sea again to have a little bit of fun with some pretty girls. They spotted the two girls in their car in front of them, pulled up next to them and flagged them down. The girls reluctantly pulled over to let the gentlemen have a word. They asked the girls out for the following night, and my grandmother reluctantly accepted, at her friend's behest, on one condition. This line will go down in family history as the single most important line my grandmother ever uttered. We all sprung forth into life as a result of this one line. It was the line that irrevocably hooked my grandfather.

She leaned out of the car window, looked up at my grandfather and said:

"I'll go. But only if you promise not to wear that stupid uniform."

My grandfather swears he knew right then and there that she would be the woman he would marry.

On their date the next night, my grandfather pulled out all the stops. He was a painfully good looking young man who had been making trouble with girls since around the time he realized what a girl was -- a bad boy to the core. He'd already been to jail, been through a boys' home for juvenile delinquents -- a genuine greaser if ever there was one. My grandmother cut him off at every turn. You're taking us to do what? Pick up beer? Well. That's fine. You can just drop me off at home on the way, because if you think I'm about to sit in this car and be bored to death watching you get stupid drunk, you've got another thing coming entirely. He lost all his cool and babbled nonsense, going out of his way to please this girl he had intended to pick up, use for a bit of fun, and drop as soon as possible.

The woman's been through an imaginable amount of shit since then, and continues to go head-first through the mess today. I've got a hell of a lot of that woman in me, so much that I have to watch it at times, but I'm proud to have her blood running through my veins. She can be hard as nails, but she's done what she had to do to see herself and her family through.

Her defining characteristic of the three women is definitely her tenacity, equaled only in measure by her love for and loyalty to her family. Our job, as various members of the family underneath my grandmother, is to do stupid shit she can see for what it is coming from a mile off, ignore all her warnings, have her take a firm stance against us, vowing not to have a thing to do with the mess we're about to make, and then watch her as she crumbles and once again does what she can to pick up all of the pieces for us. Her job is to forgive us our ignorance, and she's fucking excellent at it.

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