Since my blog and I are not yet world famous, most of you who are reading this post know my maternal grandmother, the inimitable, indomitable Delorease Middleton Parker, who is truly larger than life. Now 95 years old, Granny is not her old self, but when she was, no one in Evans County had a more generous heart or a friendlier attitude toward everyone with whom she came in contact. Granny always loved people, and people loved her back. She was quite outspoken, but there was an innocence to her honesty that distinguished it from that of blunt people who know that their words will likely inflict harm but say them anyway. What came up came out with no malice aforethought. Her love for her family was fierce and consistent, but she often seemed to agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson about a foolish consistency’s being the hobgoblin of a small mind in other areas. For example, my mother once asked Granny why she had not gone to the altar following a revival sermon on healing, for everyone far and wide knew that Granny’s knees gave her constant trouble. Their conversation went something like this:
“Mama, I thought you might go down to the altar when the preacher prayed for healing tonight.”
“What for, Betty?”
“For your knees, Mama.”
“My knees is fine, Betty. Besides, I couldn’t kneel. My knees is killin’ me!”
Once Granny’s knees had rendered her incapable of her weekly trips to Savannah for shopping and enjoying her beloved “rub downs,” she had to settle for a monthly trip to Wal Mart in nearby Vidalia to purchase groceries and Wilton cake circles (She was constantly baking pound cakes for sick or elderly neighbors.) instead. I served as her driver and companion, and I will never forget the fun we had together. Her approach to my house differed tremendously from that which she had favored when I was growing up. If my sisters and I were going anywhere with Granny, we had better be on time. She lived a block from my parents’ house. but we knew the instant she started her car because that was also the moment she began blowing the horn, and she continued to blow until all of us were safely ensconced in her idling car. “Don’t stop laying on the horn until you see the whites of their eyes” was her motto, and she did not deviate.
When we got to our typical destination, Broughton Street, Granny used the horn for a different purpose. Parking in downtown Savannah has never been easy because spaces are so rare, and crack parallel parking skills are a pre-requisite. Not to worry. Watching Granny park was akin to witnessing the painting of a masterpiece. She was the Picasso of parking. Granny could spot a driver getting ready to move like a hawk seeking prey over an open field, and she could wheel her yacht-length Cadillac into the tightest of spaces like butter. I can still hear her charm bracelet jingling and her rings slapping the steering wheel while she outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted all comers who dared to challenge her for a coveted slot in front of Fine’s or Levy’s. By the time she had to settle for Vidalia, however, she had mellowed a bit, so she saved the horn for the driveway.
Dressed impeccably with just the right jewelry, nail polish, and lip stick, she would drive her big white Cadillac sedan over to pick me up, relinquish the driver’s seat, and settle into a rapid fire conversation that reflected her stream-of consciousness with topical shifts for which there was no warning. I had to think fast to keep up. One minute we were talking about what she planned to take to the covered dish meal at the church on Sunday. The next she was telling me that Mr. X’s new toupee looked perfectly awful and that it was supposed to rain, which was good because her grass looked pitiful.
Once we got to Vidalia, we would first stop for dinner at Natsu Japanese Restaurant. Oh, the friends she could make around a hibachi grill. A loner trying to read a newspaper, a family of six, or gaggles of noisy teenagers out on their own were all the same to her. She would say, “Hi. I’m Mrs. Parker.” Then she would tell them what she was going to cook for dinner the next day and which “stories” she watched. She saved the account of her knee replacements for last, sort of like dessert. I often blushed while she was talking, especially when I could tell that her listeners were on a date, but somehow all of them fell in love with her before she left. Occasionally, she would send me to the car to get a fruitcake–she never left home without one–for an especially receptive listener, particularly if her new friend remarked kindly upon finding out that her late husband had owned The Claxton Bakery, home of world-famous Claxton Fruitcake.
When we got to Wal Mart, Granny would insist upon two non-negotiable conditions. First, I was to drop her off at the front door. Second, I was to park in a handicapped parking space. I tried to explain to her many times that since I was able-bodied and she was no longer in the vehicle when I parked, I had no right to take a reserved spot. Well, she wasn’t having it. She had a handicapped decal, and we were not going to waste it. She was handicapped, it was her car, and she had every right to use the space. She did sometimes walk back to the car with her buggy to support her, but no one who saw me going in knew that. “But Granny, ” I’d implore, “there are people who will curse you out if they see you use a space when you are clearly not handicapped. Please don’t make me.” Ultimately, I could offend the person with whom I’d be riding home for the night or I could take a chance upon getting blessed out by an irate stranger. I took the second option a few times but felt like such a creep that I started parking in a regular space, sneaking back to the car after we were done, and pulling up to the front before she made her exit. This usually worked since she tended to talk to the cashier, the folks behind her, random shoppers she saw on the way out, and the young men gathering errant carts near the door, whom she tipped with a ready supply of one dollar bills. If she decided to accompany me to the parking lot, I assured her that no handicapped spaces in that section had been available when I parked: “Yes ma’am, I know that several spaces were empty when I dropped you off, but dash it all, others got them before I could get back around, and the ones over there are farther away than the space I got.” Usually, faking Granny out about the status of our parking space on one of our excursions was the most stressful aspect of the trip. Usually….