For me the Twentieth Century ended on Wednesday, Jan. 12, when Big Granny
That's what Jeanne and I took to calling my grandmother after our kids came
to distinguish her--their great-grandmother--from their grandmothers. Soon
become her nickname, at least for my branch of the family tree. Big Granny.
Strictly speaking, it isn't true, of course, that the 20th century died with
her, but for
me, I think, it always will seem true. Lena Carter Fowler, my mother's
mother, after all,
had been around for most of a century. She was born in 1910, before the 20th
become recognizable for what it would become. Before World War I, the Great
Depression, the League of Nations. Long before World War II, the Cold War.
space travel and the Pill--thank goodness--and Elvis.
Way before all that.
Think of that. Granny was born when ragtime ruled. Before cars and airplanes
commonplace. Before 'Intolerance' was filmed, before the Titanic went down,
Woodrow Wilson was president. Before Bing Crosby was heard from. Before almost
everything we take for granted in our kitchens and bathrooms were
jazz and Prohibition and flappers. There's a photograph of her looking very
much like a
flapper. It was displayed at her funeral on Saturday, Jan. 15 in Sparta.
Bobbed hair frames her lovely face--dark eyes, patrician nose, pretty mouth.
Self-possessed, sophisticated, she stands revealing trim lower gams and
classic figure in a
dress that must have been daring in its day. To me, this picture has always
adventure, anomalies. How do you square this stylish, shrewd-looking,
couldn't have been more than 19--with Big Granny.
The granny pictured there was no granny. She was a girl without an inkling
would ever be in the world. I'd give a lot to know the thoughts behind that
pretty face as
the photographer clicked the shutter. He captured a world that's mostly lost.
Even in my earliest memories of Granny--they start surely before 1960--I see a
woman with big soft bosom and belly, a ready laugh that went with an earthy
humor, and arms destined to encircle any child lucky or unlucky enough to be
her front porch--arms that cut off all escape for me and my siblings--Rodney,
Timmy, and later Kathy, as Granny grabbed us and planted kisses on our faces.
It was not something, at age six or eight, that I wanted to experience all
but it was the price you paid to visit the great mysteries and amazing people
encountered at Granny's house.
There was my red-headed, freckle-faced Aunt Linda, who conspired in the
mysteries of fashion, romance and music with my older brother and sister.
amazing and suspicious possessions--Elvis records and books about John F.
jewelry and Redbook magazines. And there was my uncle, this weird teenaged
named after his father I would find out later, but we all called him Sonny,
and I still do.
My earliest memory of him is of a barefoot boy, hanging upside down from a
by the knees, and laughing uproariously. Then there was beautiful,
sophisticated Aunt Lila,
dressed for a date.
Mostly, though, I remember Granny's hugs and kisses.
Later, say in 1993 or '94, when I would bring my own children by to see her
nursing home, they developed their own strategies for dealing with Big
Granny. I'll never
forget the way she would leap up smiling from her bed, arms extended, the
walked in her room. Alexis and Travis would go in and get the inevitable over
Justin, who was youngest, would bide his time, waiting until Granny had
embraced his big
brother, then he would step up behind--cutting off brother's escape--and
him on both sides, stretching his fingers to barely graze Big Granny's robe,
he would close
his eyes, exchange his grimace for a beatific smile, and experience her
Then he would retreat out of reach, fast.
I know I'll never forget those visits to the places Granny called home, not
only for her
memorable hugs and kisses. There were other things to be had at Granny's
remember lots of laughter, singing, prayer, food, kittens, and her poetry and
Always poetry she had written, and a treasury of books. When I consider how
possible that I would spend much of my life stringing words together for a
gets much of the credit or blame. But then, without her, nothing ever was or
be for so many who gathered Saturday at the service. She was the fountain
from which we
sprang, and I honor her for that.
I loved my Granny--even those kisses; maybe, especially those kisses, and I'm
miss her more than I can say.