Her name was Nicie.
I called her “Ma.” She was my grandmother. Ma was in her 70s when I was born, and died a month shy of her 104th birthday. I shared her feather bed and we prayed together every night. She taught me my first prayers—“Now I lay me down to sleep,” the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 23. We’d kneel beside her bed, and bow our heads as we recited our prayers together. Afterwards, I’d gaze at that old, faded Last Supper tapestry tacked onto her wall, and try to guess who all the disciples were. Which one was Judas? I studied their expressions to try and make out the betrayer but never could make a confident guess. The next morning, after fluffing our pillows and pulling out stray feathers from the bed, we’d make our way to the kitchen for some homemade biscuits, molasses and strong black coffee. To this day, I don’t like coffee.
The key to her flaky biscuits was the lard. We never used measuring cups. Making biscuits was all about sight and feeling. We added half a bowl of flour. She showed me how to use the hole in the bottom of my cupped hand as a measuring device to add the right amount of baking powder, salt, and sugar. We kept a lard can on the counter, and would take out chunks of that cold pig fat, and work it into the biscuit dough with our fingers. We mixed in small amounts of buttermilk until the dough felt right, until it had a sticky, almost elastic consistency. Then we’d flour the countertop, knead the dough, pinch off small balls, roll it in our hands and place it on the baking sheet in neat rows. If we wanted cheese biscuits, we’d watch the biscuits rise in the oven for a few minutes, then take them out and cut each piping hot biscuit through the center. Then, we’d take a block of gov’t cheese, put nice, thick slices inside each biscuit and place them back in the oven until the cheese began to ooze out and the biscuits were a nice golden brown. While the biscuits were baking, Ma would fry up some country ham and eggs and I would pull out the Mason jar of homemade pear preserves or maybe some apple butter. Over breakfast Ma read her Bible while I read the newspaper. She’d tell me something Jesus did, and I’d tell her about something happening in “town”.
I remember jumping rope with my friends one day, and standing in amazement as my 80-something year old grandma joined in. She barely broke a sweat as she jumped to “Strawberry shortcake, cream on top. Tell me the name of your sweetheart. A B C D…” and on we went until she gave up. The palms of her hands were as smooth as butter. Her fingers were arthritic from years of hand quilting, sewing, wringing wet clothes out by hand when she didn’t have a washer or dryer, only a pail and washboard. Her hair was white. I wanted white hair when I got old. Every Saturday night, she would sweep the floor in her room with a broom that she made from some sort of straw that she found in the backyard. Then she’d wash her support hose in the sink, and wrap them in a towel to dry so they’d be ready for her to wear to church the next day. Her support hose were the open-toed variety that were a must for Sunday morning since she attended a feet washing church. One night, she wandered outside around 2am calling for our dog who’d died years earlier. My parents put her in a nursing home after that. In her 100th year, I got married and my grandmother was able to attend. She talked throughout the service to who-knows-who, told everyone where my dad kept his shotgun in case my almost-husband ever got out of line, and ate more than a fair share of wedding cake. So many memories.
Ma Nicie was a faithful member of two churches. One church was “down the country”, in the neighborhood where she spent much of her adult life. They had church on 2nd and 4th Sundays and washed feet and served communion on 4th Sunday’s. The pastor preached at a different country church on 1st and 3rd Sundays so Ma would attend the church in “town” on those Sundays.
It’s been 20 years since Ma transitioned from time to eternity. I could tell many stories about my grandma. Some hysterically funny, others unbelievable—all memorable. Older folk love to tell stories, and it is often in these stories that we see the Lord’s blessings of wisdom, perseverance, faith, hope, love and more, practically applied to their lives. These stories are not just reminders of the past, but they are history as seen through one person’s eyes. They serve as encouragements to us that we might learn from them and walk in wisdom.
Happy birthday, Ma!