Goodbye, Gramma K

I have a very good memory about things I’ve seen or experienced; I can replay events in my head vividly, which comes in handy reviewing films. I can distinctly recollect many events from when I lived in Cottageville, West Virginia before I was old enough for grade school: being carried in someone’s arms from the back room to the living room, when I first got up the courage to walk to the end of the road, riding a “big wheel” down the hill behind our house, and when the baby sitter ran out to me when I fell off the elementary school “slicky slide.”

What I cannot recollect was being taken out by my Gramma K to run whatever errands she had to do in spite of her repeated insistence that she provided my “education in manners” during my formative years. “You were such a well-behaved baby… once I got a hold of you,” she’d say. Perhaps the unsubstantiated rumors that one or more of my parents were slipping booze into my bottle as an infant (you know, as a sleeping aid) had something to do with that.

But I do remember my first memory of Gramma K and of Pappa K.O. (I remember his skin being bright red for some reason), spending time in the big old blue-gray house at the end of the “holler.” I believe that may have also been the premiere of the “Uncle Bo Show” as well, but that part’s a little fuzzy. Then there was the heater vent in the floor between the front room and the kitchen that burned your bare feet in a waffle pattern if you couldn’t leap the distance in a single bound.

I also recall seeing Pappa K.O. one last time afterward in what I think was a hospital bed, and he looked very thin compared to the only other time I remember seeing him. I think I wasn’t supposed to be there (no kids allowed, perhaps) but I did anyway because I wanted to look.

The memories I have of Gramma K are sprinkled with bits of the old house and property: the huge tree in the front yard with the tire swing (until we broke it,) the silver trailer across the yard with the air conditioning thingie that looked like a spaceship had landed on top, and the dilapidated garage (complete with wood-burning stove) full of the coolest junk ever, and the makeshift basketball hoop. Between the garage and the side of the old house was the switch tree, and the longest walk in the world was when Gramma K sent you after one. Of course, if you picked one that was too small, she’d pick one herself (and no one wanted that.)

I didn’t see Gramma K as often after my parents divorced, but no visit to Dad’s house was ever complete without a trip to Gramma’s. As I hit my teens, I became convinced Gramma K hated me because I no longer obeyed her without question (of course, I questioned everything and everyone at that time, so I wasn’t really acting any differently toward her than anyone else, but she took it personally.) When she pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, I could imagine whole forests erupting into flames, and you did NOT want that gaze of ire fixed on you. On the other hand, anyone in trouble other than you was always entertaining and often hilarious (as long as Gramma K didn’t catch you laughing.)

My most recent memories of Gramma K were spent in adulthood, that at some point we started talking to each other like adults and having actual conversations. She came down to Jacksonville around the time of the Superbowl and we had a great time, but shortly afterward she started to decline. It’s always hard to watch someone so sharp and sure of herself slowly becoming confused and dependent, especially when members of her own clan would play games like “re-arrange the family pictures on the wall” each time she was distracted and looking elsewhere. For the record, I never played after I found out about it, and I can now say with a clear conscious, “You evil little shits.”

Goodbye, Gramma K. Say hi to Pappa K.O. for us.

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