Friday, June 26, 2009


My grandmother died this morning, a week short of her 95th birthday. The last couple of years her health had started to deteriorate and she spent quite a bit of time lately in and out of the hospital. I’ve been prepared for this for a while now, though I feel keenly for my mother and my aunt.

This is how I remember my grandmother:

She was a Southern Baptist who loved to go dancing.

She loved Gospel music,hymns, and Big Band.

When she was a little girl, in the early 1920s, she bullied the barber of her little Arkansas town into cutting her hair in a bob like the big girls had. She told him her grandmother (who raised her) said that he should just do it and stop arguing. Said grandmother was not amused.

During WWII, my grandfather got a job in Oak Ridge working in the lab (I’m not really sure what he was doing exactly). He had told my grandmother to get some new tires from the rationing board to make the drive from Texas to Tennessee. The man at the rationing board refused to give her the tires. When she told him she was going to meet her husband who was working for the government in Oak Ridge, he refused to acknowledge the existence of Oak Ridge. She stood there in front of him with two little girls and argued with him until he gave her the tires.

In the 1950s, she was one of the first women to work in appliance sales in her Sears store. At the time, only men were allowed to sell appliances, as the work was considered too strenuous for a woman. It was also considerably better paid as appliance salesmen earned commission and the ladies selling brassieres did not. She fought her way into appliances and was soon meeting and topping the commissions earned by the men.

In the 1980s when my grandfather died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, she moved from the town in Idaho where they had retired to Glendale, CA to live with my aunt. My aunt was a long-time employee of the Los Angeles Unified School District--first as a teacher, then as an administrator--and had quite a diverse array of work friends, including at least one gay gentleman. My grandmother, a conservative at heart, seemed to accept this gentleman as a beloved part of my aunt’s life. I don’t know how she felt about him, or how she spoke of him when I wasn’t around, but I never heard her talk about him with anything but respect.

When my husband met my grandmother for the first time, we were sitting in her living room with my mother and my aunt. My mother was chiding my grandmother for being too stubborn. My husband told me later that as he looked from me, to my mother, to my grandmother, he caught a glimpse of who I would be in the future and that it was both intimidating and really cool.

I love you, Grandma. Give Grandpa my love and do a little foxtrot in Heaven.

Willie E. Merry 1914-2009

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