Gramma Educates Shirley and Lorraine
W. Lorraine Watkins

26 June 2009

By the time I came along Gramma had pretty well given up any personal boundaries with children she may have once had. To the consternation of the other grandmother and family, I had the habit of calling her “Fat Gran.” I adored her abundance. She was so soft and accepting of exploration of details of her daily activities and her person as well.

It is my guess that any of the over thirty grandchildren could still recite how to prune roses, scratch a cat’s ears or make biscuits….”First you make a well in the flour…

The grandchildren would free her hair of restraining bone hairpins; then comb and brush for hours. It had never been cut and was always worn in a bun on top of her head. Gramma, as I finally came to call her, had resisted both the bobs of the twenties and the pompadours of the forties.

Many more memories flow, but this one is about how you could never flummox Gramma.

The summer of 1942 my slightly older cousin Shirley and I spent a week or more with Gramma in the home on I Ave in Lawton, Oklahoma. Until that year Lawton had been a typical dusty little peacetime army town. Pawn shops and penny arcades were the major industries. However that summer the streets swelled with teenaged boys in khaki uniforms and garrison caps. Many, as did my male cousins, came ahead of the draft, directly from the CCC

My glamorous older female cousins taking full advantage of the fresh stock in town were dating abundantly.

But for me it was a time of deep wounding because I was not yet permitted to aspire to dating. Shirley a couple of years older than I, straining at restrictions, influenced me to do the same. I had a pretty good body but Shirley was gorgeous. She wore dark raspberry lipstick, her deep brown hair in a pompadour and she smoked! Lord! I wanted to be like her.

Unnoticed Gramma was taking all this in. She couldn’t say much about tobacco as she had dipped Garret Snuff since her own teenage years. The #2 vegetable can for spit was her closest companion, though her daughters never gave up trying to hide it when guests came.

But on one of those hot 1942 afternoons Shirley and I discovered Gramma did have something to say about other things. We heard a faint call, like a mewing kitten, from the east bedroom. We followed the sound.

It was Gramma in the big feather bed. Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra reclining on her barge could not have been more awesome. Her hair fell over her shoulders and long ropes of beads descended from around her neck. Between her fingers was a smoldering cigarette in a long holder. Cheeks rouged, lips, dark raspberry. The casually draped pink negligee revealed cleavage to the navel.

Sweetness dropped from her lips. “I just want you girls to know how you will be when you get old if you keep tarting up to those soldiers.”

We didn’t know what tarting meant but got the general idea.

It was only years later that Shirley and I recognized the other lesson; this unique kinship the three of us shared. Paraphrasing the words of a song of the times; “We’re Either Too Young or too Old.”