Here's another article about FIAWOL, of sorts, in a real-life setting -- how many of
us can say that we have a mundane relative who had edited a newszine? The writer of
the following piece was born and raised in northeast Arkansas, where she married
Jerry Proctor in 1955. They lived in Jackson, Mississippi for five years before
moving to Birmingham, Alabama, where she eventually became the cornerstone of
This is the story of a tough old lady and some of the fires that annealed her. Grandma Gladys, henceforth known as GG, is tough. She has survived all her siblings, three husbands, friends and a lot of her neighbors. Well, it's not really fair to count the neighbors as she lives in Meadowlawn, a retirement community. While there are folks there older than she (she's 83), there is no one who has lived there so long. She shows me the little newsletter they put out, and the list of people who died is always long, while the list of people who got sick and lived to tell the tale is not.
Oddly enough, she was the editor of this newspaper until just recently. I say "oddly" because she knows nothing of fanzines, or small press publishing, and from my viewpoint it seemed odd that she published a newszine while I was publishing Anvil. She put her personal stamp on Meadowlawn Capers. She culled cartoons, funny stories, and clever sayings from magazines and periodicals and filed them away by month so they could be used at the appropriate season. At the attrition rate of Meadowlawn, she could use the same material every five years and the few who were still alive wouldn't remember anyway. She did the cutting and pasting, writing up the neighborhood news -- visits of children and grandchildren, and local events of interest. Jack the apartment manager would print and distribute it.
I am the only one of her generation in either of our families left. She is 16 years my senior and has lived in interesting times all of her life. GG has outlived three husbands, lost a two-year old child and raised two others. She's never lost her sense of humor or positive outlook. She's the only grandmother my children ever knew.
GG was always my 'second mother'. My mother was a teacher (my First Grade teacher, too!) and while she was finishing her work at school I went to GG's for my after-school snack. When I had rheumatic fever in the summer and couldn't start school on time, I stayed with GG. I was not allowed to run or exert myself that autumn. There was a banister on her back porch that I thought would be such fun to slide down, but she allowed me to slide down only once each day as "it would wear out my corduroy pants to slide more." And I believed her.
GG told me the facts of life, at my mother's behest. My mother was much too shy to talk about such things. After that, GG introduced me to the dirty joke. She doesn't tell them now, but back then, whew!
Old Mrs. Hatcher lived next door to GG while I was in grade school. Mrs. H would come out on the porch and scream great obscenities at the children walking to school, sometimes waving a butcher knife. Once GG was saving cans for someone and Mrs. Hatcher asked if she could have them "to throw at people going by." GG put them out of sight.
One day my father had to go in GG's house through the window when she had accidentally locked herself out. Mrs. H saw him and for weeks after told the neighborhood at the top of her lungs "that woman has men in her house, coming in the doors and windows at all hours! She's f***ing them under the house," Mrs. H informed the world.
GG's husband had lost a leg in the war and was in veterans' hospitals a lot. And then he was on the road with various jobs. Whenever he came home he would get her pregnant or give her a disease. My mother urged her to get a divorce, even though this was not a common thing in those days. Late one night a few weeks after GG's husband had been home, Mrs. Hatcher began beating on GG's front door. GG opened the door a little to latch the screen door so Mrs. H wouldn't break the glass in the wooden door. In the confusion that followed, Mrs. H fell and broke her hip. Her family, who could well afford it, finally put her in a home. GG suffered a miscarriage.
Years later, after my mother had died, and GG's youngest child, Janine, had died, GG did divorce her husband. She bought a Singer Featherweight Portable sewing machine (which I have now). She paid for it and supplemented her income by sewing for other people.
Five years after my mother died, my father and GG married. They had ten blissful years together. Internal bliss. Externally, they had GG's mother in a hospital bed waiting for an opening at the County Home. Then it was my father's father who took a year to die from little strokes. GG fed and diapered him, and sat him in a wooden-armed chair with a dishtowel tied across to keep him from wandering. "He's like a baby," she said. I came home that summer, and would stop and chat with him. He would think I was first one person and then another from his past. It was a busy household, with GG's two teenagers and the parade of those needing care, but everyone was cheerful. The feeling was, given the situation, one had to either laugh or cry, and we would rather laugh.
Another time, Uncle Sam (black sheep of the family) stayed with them a little while. During that time, Jerry and I had moved from Jackson, Mississippi to Birmingham, Alabama. Jerry went on ahead to find us a place to live. I came home with a four-month-old baby boy, Justin, and 15-month old Valerie. We had the back bedroom. Sam had the middle bedroom. Valerie was a toddler and it pleased her no end to sneak up behind Sam in his wheelchair and push him across the room, into the console TV set. Sam would whoop and holler "Whoa! Whoa!" I was in the rocker nursing the baby. Do you think I reprimanded my child? I did not. "Well, Sam! What do you expect? Put your brakes on!"
During the time Jerry and I lived in Jackson, my dad used to joke that he had two daughters, one in prison and one in Mississippi, and that he had been trying for five years to get that one out of Mississippi! I'm not sure how my sister Evelyn felt about this story.
GG had been born with a deformed hip with one leg shorter than the other, and has been the lab rat for hip replacement surgery. More than 40 years ago she went to a hospital in Memphis and let them practice on her. After the first surgery they kept her in a body cast for weeks. They were amazed at how quickly she recovered and walked again, but her bones were defective and broke easily even as a fairly young woman in her 40s. She had a hip fusion on the other hip, and later they replaced that one, too. She has a stainless steel rod down to her right knee. By the time they had gotten through "practicing" on her, she was getting up and walking the next day after surgery.
GG, though wheelchair bound now, is still living independently. She has a washer and dryer and can do her own laundry. She prepares her meals and keeps in touch with the world. She keeps postage stamps to sell to neighbors who need one or two. Visitors who whine and complain are not suffered gladly.
Neighbor: "Oh, I'm dying... I feel so terrible..."
GG: "You've been dying ever since I've known you, and you're still here!"
She watches the news every day, and works puzzles in the paper. I can count on two birthday cards: one from GG and one from my insurance agent. She never misses anyone's anniversary or birthday. She is the glue that holds our family together.
Her daughter, my stepsister Marie, lives nearby and comes once a week to be there while GG showers. Marie also grocery shops for her every six weeks or so. GG is slowing down now, and I visit her more often. I do some shopping for her, change light bulbs, and things of that nature. Neither Marie nor her husband is in good health, and it's a toss-up as to who will outlive whom.
Just recently, on my third and last night there, I had a dream. I had been up until well after midnight and had taken something to sleep. My sleeping self heard a loud shrill noise -- a telephone? Next I heard -- a teakettle whistling? The third time I heard the noise, swimming up from the depths of slumber, it sounded like a smoke alarm, shrill and insistent. "This is something I need to investigate" I told my sleep-drugged body.
The lights were on in GG's bedroom. I stumbled to the doorway and looked at her bed. No GG. I looked the other way into the bathroom. She wasn't in there. Hearing (finally) my name, I followed the sound down to the floor. There she was, folded up in a spot between bed and walker, bedside table and wheelchair.
"I've been down here an hour!" GG complained. "I called you and called you. Finally I remembered a whistle in my bedside table drawer." Resourceful woman.
I looked at the clock. It was 4 a.m.
"Uh," I said, and moved to come over where she was.
"No, you can't lift me. I'm going to call 911."
Soon, a policeman came by. GG tells him she doesn't think she's hurt, and that my son is a policeman. The EMTs arrive and assess the situation, and ask GG questions to ascertain she is not altered. GG has me taking names, for the next Meadowlawn Capers, no doubt.
Explaining what they are doing and apologizing for stepping over her, the strapping young men put their arms under her armpits and raised her to her feet. She grasped her walker and then levered herself into the wheelchair. My biggest fear was that they would hurt her, squeeze her hand or swivel her hip, but they are professionals and deal with worn-out old bodies all the time. I put socks on her ice cold feet. She went back to bed, and our early morning visitors left.
Next morning, I got ready to go, packed the car, and waited. I waited until GG had gotten in her wheelchair, gone to the bathroom and gotten back in the wheelchair. GG says she's just sore, especially her knee. I was afraid she would catch pneumonia from being on the cold floor so long.
But she survived my visit. I called Marie who said, "She's fine. She's a tough old bird!"
Meadowlawn Capers continues with another editor, but GG still contributes.
Title illustration by Julia Morgan-Scott