We called her Maw Maw, because that’s what she wanted, and Maw Maw usually got what she wanted. I wish I had learned more about her, but in that way that children and young people can be, I only saw her as this adult who either wore on my nerves, gave me presents, or later, handed me fodder for stories about crazy family members. Too Bad. There was more to Maw Maw than I’ll ever know, and as I get older, I long to know all her stories. Too late–she’s gone; so let that be a lesson to ye out there with grannies and granpaws–get the stories. Listen.
My first memory of Maw Maw was when she gave me a doll, my first doll I’d ever owned. In this day of kids having more toys than they know what to do with, it may not seem like much, but, when I was little, I didn’t have many toys—and no doll. Little girls dream of dolls, and I did, literally. And when I’d wake up and my arms were empty, I’d wish with all my little girl heart that somehow my dream would come true and I’d receive a doll. That is almost pukingly sweet—but true.
I remember so clearly in a way I don’t remember many many things clearly how I lay in a small bed, and the door opens, and there stands Maw Maw, large and loud and so There. She held a box in her hand, and before she was entirely in the door, she was screeching that she had a present for her baby. Maw Maw’s voice was this screech-owl mixture of Tennessee-Ark-La-Tex (because she lived in the Arklatex for many years), and the volume was always on high. She burst into the room, and sucked up all the air. My parents moved out of the way as she made a bee-line for me. I was her favorite—something that would be both gratifying and terrifying.
When she handed me the doll, I was overcome with child-joy. I hugged her, the doll, not Maw Maw, and thought how I’d play with her, sleep with her, hold her everywhere I went. Maw Maw said, “That there doll is for my baby! My precious baby! Oh, see how she loves the doll. She loves her Maw Maw, too, don’t you, Kathy?” And Maw Maw enveloped me in her breasts, where I became lost for a week and they had to send out a search party.
I said, I’m sure I said, “Thank yew, Maw Maw. I wove dis baby doll.” Surely I did.
My mother, whom hadn’t adopted me yet and was a “step mother,” stood by, I can almost see her, in Maw Maws ample shadow, looking on, and thinking, “That doll is too fancy. What was she thinking?”
For the doll was fancy. She had a mink coat, high-heeled shoes, pearl necklace, shimmery shiny dress, soft headband, curly hairdo—AND!—make up! She was gorgeous, and she was mine.
After Maw Maw left, Mother plucked the doll from my grasp, not understanding my want for a doll, how I had to have one, needed one, or I would surely die. She plucked the doll and put it away “for later” because it was too fancy-shmancy for a little girl to dirty up. I don’t remember crying, and I probably didn’t, because I seldom cried. I asked my parents, “Did I cry when Momma gave me up? Did I cry later? Did I ever cry?” and Mother said, “No, you just had these huge eyes that looked so sad.”
The doll is with me now. Obviously, at some point, Mother gave her back to me and I loved her a bit too much. She’s lost some of her jewelry, and her shoes are gone, and her dress is a bit worn down. And later, Mother kept her for me again, for all the years I was gone away from home, kept her safe, just as she did when I was a teeny girl. I have her now. Good Man has named her “Chuckie” and one night put a knife with ketchup on it in her hand and stood her where I would come upon her and scream—but instead I laughed.
Maw Maw had all the good intentions that grandmothers do, and if she had come back and seen the doll placed away, she’d have screeched and screamed at the injustice of it all, and how her granddaughter was sorely mistreated, and how her precious baby didn’t deserve such an insult. My mother and grandmother would butt heads over the years, mentally butt and shove and push against each other, until neither gave up.
Every time I look at that doll, I think of Maw Maw and all the missed opportunities to know her better. Even as she lay dying, I didn’t think to ask her questions about her past. I didn’t ask her about how she was ahead of her time in so many ways.
Yes, Maw Maw picked me as her favorite, and that’s why I was able to go on the trip to Tennessee- for the chicken kill, but that’s another Maw Maw story for another time.