Ida Dell

My grandmother and I had a real mutual admiration society. We were so close. She was born Ida Dell Craft, in her parents¶ home in Braxton County, West Virginia, in 1890. Her husband, William ³Doc´ Pierson, was her neighbor on a nearby farm. Since he died when I was three years old, I don¶t really remember much about him. He was a traveling dry goods salesman for Guthrie-Morris Campbell, and drove to general stores all over

the central part of the state, selling fabrics and other merchandise. Back in those days traveling salesmen were called ³Drummers.´ ³Granny,´ as we called her, was a registered nurse at Memorial Hospital in Charleston, and worked there many years after Doc¶s death. She never drove, so either we picked her up at the hospital, when she finished her shift, or she rode the bus home. The two of them lived in Rosedale then Sutton, West Virginia, before settling on the West Side of Charleston, in 1921. They raised a son, Ralph, and daughter, Betty, my mom, in the second house down, in a crowded little court called Woodward Court. It ran off of and perpendicular to Garden Street, which was brick-covered, as were many of the streets in the neighborhood. The houses lined both sides of the narrow walkway, which extended down the court, from beginning to end. They were crammed together so closely, that the overhangs from their roofs nearly touched. In between the houses was a small, three-foot space. My grandparents¶ brown, one story, wooden frame house was typical of the vernacular architecture of their neighborhood. Doc was a master furnituremaker and built a woodworking shop behind their home, overtop of a garage. The house and the shop were connected, by a stairway leading up

to the shop and down to the back yard. After he died, the gray wooden door to his shop remained closed, as if there were memories behind that door too precious to be disturbed. Being a devout Baptist and the matriarch of the family, Granny set the standards for much of what we children were allowed, or not allowed, to do. Decks of regular playing cards, which were used to play poker, were never allowed in our home. We couldn¶t discuss our going to dances with her, since she didn¶t approve of such behavior. To me, the most fanatic rule she had, was her ban on Root Beer, because of the obvious reason«it was some kind of ³Beer.´ My family and Ralph¶s family, his wife Virginia and daughter Joyce, visited with her often, especially since we all went to church together. We spent a lot of time with each other at camp, and both of our houses were only a few blocks up the hill from hers. When we went for visits, we rang her doorbell, and waited at the front door. She pulled up the blind on the window of her door, and was always so thrilled to see us. After she rolled up the blind to reveal who was at her door, she threw her hands up, raised her eyebrows, and dropped her jaw from excitement. More often than not, when we went to her house, she was making

medical bandages to send overseas. This seemed to be her self-imposed, personal mission. For many years, she tore up white sheets into long thin three-inch-wide strips, then rolled them tightly into bandages. These were mailed overseas to missionaries, who were in dire need of medical supplies. She was also active in the local chapter of the WCTU, the Women¶s Christian Temperance Union. It is the nondenominational, worldwide women¶s group, which spearheaded the prohibition movement. Each year they held a coloring contest at local grade schools. Among other things, they held annual White Ribbon Ceremonies at community churches. These were for parents, of young children, to pledge that they would never expose their children to any form of alcohol. Sometimes, when we visited her, she stood at her ironing board for hours upon hours, starching and ironing her crisp white nurse¶s uniforms. After she retired, she ironed for other families. I¶m sure she was only paid a pittance for ironing their baskets of clothes, but she was happy to earn the spare change. When I spent the night with her, it always looked so unusual to watch her sit at the vanity and brush out her long gray hair. This was such a rare sight, since she always wore her hair pulled up in a tidy little bun. She loved

for me to spend the night with her. Every time I came home from college, she called and invited me to spend the night. Usually, I took her up on the offer. I think that¶s why we were so close. I willing gave her quite a bit of my time. She and I often sat in front of the dark wood mantle in her bedroom, and snuggled up next to the gas space heater. Sometimes we watched her favorite television show, ³The Price is Right.´ When I was in fourth or fifth grade, while we were visiting in her bedroom, she commented that I had dirt on my knee. When she realized it was the dark hair on my legs, from then on, she became my advocate in convincing Mom to let me remove the hair with Nair cream. While we visited with her in the kitchen, she loved baking sugar cookies for us. She often offered her visitors treasures that she had hoarded from the hospital cafeteria«assorted flavors of jellies. She kept the little rectangular packages on a plate, and only got them out on special occasions. Queen Elizabeth couldn¶t have been more proud to have offered her guests exquisite caviar, than Granny was in presenting us with the packaged jellies. She acted as if those were rare delicacies. Even though we had given her an electric blanket one Christmas, she

preferred not to use it. She slept in a handsome walnut bed Doc had made. He had hand-turned the tall wooden posts on his lathe. The mattress sat a little higher than on normal beds. When we went to bed for the night, I climbed up to those icy cold sheets. The weight from all of those blankets was so heavy, it was nearly impossible to turn over. We always celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas meals at her home, as we gathered around the large round wooden dining room table. Doc had made the entire dining room set, with a tall china cabinet, wooden chairs, and the large table. It had a leaf for the middle, to accommodate our big family. Each meal was a feast of epic proportion. My favorite mouth-watering dish was turkey dressing with chestnuts. I liked to help grind up the ingredients for the cranberry salad, shoving the orange peelings down into the sturdy metal, hand-cranked grinder. At Christmastime, Granny had a small artificial tree, which she sat out on a dark round coffee table. I don¶t consider myself to be a materialistic person, but some of the most cherished memorabilia I own are from her house. They are fragile, glass Christmas ornaments, which I remember seeing on her tree every year. Now I proudly hang them on our trees. One of my favorite things about her house was the beautiful rugs she

had in her living room and dining room. The rugs in both rooms were identical, and were so large, they nearly covered the entire floor. The tightly woven rugs had a handsome pink and black floral design. That has always been my favorite color combination, and I still love to see one of the rugs in my mother¶s upstairs guest room. For years, we watched Granny force her wet clothes through the wringers of her washing machine. On one occasion, she caught her little finger in the wringer and smashed it. The machine had a large round, white tub, and stood on fours legs. I sat out on her back porch, which was enclosed with small window panes, and served as a greenhouse. She had a beautiful display of large-leafed, magenta and purple coleus plants, and a magnificent crown of thorns cactus plant. It was at least five feet wide, occupying a large part of the porch. She had quite the green thumb. Granny¶s next door neighbors frequently got into screaming matches. These domestic disputes always accelerated into throwing clay flower pots, or anything else within their reach, at one another. When my sister and I heard the screaming start, we hurriedly ran out the back door, and excitedly tiptoed up the gray wooden steps which led to the old woodshop. We hunkered down on the landing at the top of the stairs, and with outstretched

necks, peeked down to her neighbors¶ backyard. Staying absolutely quiet and perfectly still, we watched as the drama unfolded. The neighbors were an elderly couple. He was short and stocky with gray hair, and she was thin and spunky, with dyed red hair. Stage one of the mayhem was always loud screaming and swearing at one another. Then the real ruckus began. One at a time, they pick up an object on their patio, and heaved it at their partner, as they let out a loud primal scream. The wife often ran into the kitchen to fetch dishes and pans for more ammunition. The flying objects were hurled across the yard or porch with such force and intensity, they surely had the potential of hurting someone. I never knew if both the husband and wife could never hit their spousal targets because they were such bad shots, or if this was a case of deliberate misses. Thankfully, their ability to duck from flying obstacles far outweighed their ability to aim at and hit their targets with any accuracy. These episodes went on for quite a long time. It was like watching a Neanderthal version of dodge ball. Instead of throwing a red rubber ball, the objects they used were loud, as they crashed onto the patio, sometimes shattering upon impact. The couple was so completely engrossed in their fight. They were totally oblivious to the fact that they had an audience on the

landing above them, taking in their every move. Granny was a stickler for what was proper and was not one to embrace change. She told the pastor at our church, Reverend Archie Snedegar, that she thought it was only appropriate for preachers to wear white shirts. He had shown up one Sunday, wearing a pastel pink shirt at the podium. On the day of my wedding she called him, to ask if he thought the ceremony ³Could be pulled off,´ since all of those men with long hair were in the wedding. One of the few times I remember her not being able to cope with a situation very well, was when some of our relatives decided to attend a different church. I never understood why this stirred up such a brouhaha from her. As adults, they surely should have had the freedom to decide where to worship, and they seemed so enthralled with their new church. When my first husband, Doug, and I moved to Columbia, South Carolina, Granny was one of the reasons I was so homesick and wanted to come back home. A few days after we moved back to Charleston, my mother called her on the phone one morning, and didn¶t get a response. Doug and I were staying with my parents for a few days, until we could move into our own home. I volunteered to go down to the court and check on her.

When I rang her doorbell, she didn¶t answer, so I walked around to her bedroom window. I could look in the window and see that she was still in the bed. I crawled through her window and tried to wake her, but she was completely non-responsive. Perfectly positioned in the bed under the covers, she was still breathing, albeit it ever so shallow. She had suffered a stroke, and was taken to Charleston General Hospital, where she never would regain consciousness. She was there for three days. During that time, we kept a constant vigil over her. We were clinging to hope, which started to fade, with each day of seeing no improvement in her condition. On the third day, she peacefully stopped breathing, and was officially declared dead. I always thought that the way she died was the perfect way to go. There were no signs that she had struggled, and she never experienced any pain. A few days before the stroke, at 82 years old, she was up on a ladder, removing the leaves from her gutters. After witnessing many friends and relatives endure such excruciating suffering, over prolonged periods of time, I believe Granny was truly one of the lucky ones. She was buried beside Doc, in a little cemetery near her birthplace, at the Middle Run Baptist Church. There are at least three generations of her

family, the Crafts, and of Doc¶s, the Piersons, buried on those hallowed grounds. One of my favorite annual excursions is to go to the little pristine white church¶s Memorial Day picnic and decorate graves. That is a family tradition we have carried out my entire life. Every year, the crowd gets smaller, as the old timers have passed on, one by one. The once bountiful spread of chicken and dumplings, baked hams, fresh green beans, homemade breads and pies has changed too. There is still plenty to eat, but there are not many ladies left who take so much pride in bringing their signature homemade dishes to the picnic. They have been replaced by a younger generation with different preferences and offerings: store-bought fried chicken and desserts, humus and pita bread, and tossed salad. It is still one event which I look forward to every year.

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