MY GRANDMOTHER ADDIE
By NANCY PATRICK
My maternal grandmother entered the world in 1901 via Arkansas. She later supplemented her maiden name, Addie Irene Moore, with Carl Carr’s last name. I didn’t know any of her family although I don’t remember why. Perhaps they lived elsewhere or had already died by the time my cousins and I arrived in the 1950s. Whatever the reason, I knew Mamaw Carr as a strong, independent, poor woman who lived a hard life with few advantages.
Addie and Carl Carr lived their entire lives in Arkansas. Carl, an alcoholic and womanizer, died at the age of fifty-two when his ulcerated stomach hemorrhaged. He did live long enough to meet four of his six grandchildren, but only the two older ones would have remembered him. He died in 1952, leaving Addie a widow for the remaining twenty-three years of her life. She always spoke lovingly of him, but my mother (the third daughter of five) told me many stories about her father that suggested he possessed two distinct sides, one sober and the other drunk.
Mom had fond memories of her dad’s sober periods but frightening memories of his intoxicated spells. I know he spent all the money he made on liquor and women because the family never had money for gifts, groceries, or medical services. Mother remembered receiving Christmas gifts from the Goodfellows and eating squirrels and rabbits her dad caught in the woods around the house. Sadly, she also remembered times when her dad behaved abusively and neglectfully.
I can only imagine the difficulty of rearing a large family in a house without running water or a bathroom. As a child, my mother suffered some ailments rarely seen today. She had scarlet fever as a child but evidently recovered with whatever treatment my grandmother provided. She also fell from a tree once, cutting a large gash in her tongue and breaking her arm. Afraid of punishment, she didn’t tell her parents for three days, by which time they discovered her swollen, bruised arm.
She also spoke of a condition she called boils. She and her sisters frequently developed these sores, sometimes on their buttocks. These boils often became infected, swollen, and pus-filled. Mom remembered times when her dad would come home drunk and bend her over a bed to whip her with a razor strop. Obviously, the boils would rupture, causing great pain.
Because my grandmother had five daughters to care for, she endured poverty, infidelity, and abuse for many years. As my mother did, my grandmother excused my grandfather’s bad behavior by saying his goodness outweighed it. I do not know the ratio of sober to drunk time, but I do know my mother experienced a lot of childhood trauma.
My parents married in Arkansas in 1947 and remained there through 1955 after my younger sister’s birth in 1954. My paternal uncle had moved to Texas and begun several business endeavors, so he persuaded my dad to follow him and work in his business projects. The move to Texas remains the smartest thing my dad ever did.
Unfortunately, our move disrupted my mother’s family terribly because no one else on her side had ever left the area. We became the “deserters.” Her daughter’s taking two of her young granddaughters far away infuriated my grandmother. I remember a loud, traumatic fight between my dad and my grandmother when he told her of our plans. My grandmother totally lost control of her emotions, screaming and throwing things against the wall. I never forgot the intensity of that episode.
The scene obviously scared me as a young child; however, when I grew older, I realized that my grandmother’s rage manifested her grief in losing our family’s proximity. My family never moved back to Arkansas although we habitually visited in the summer and Christmas time. Even though my mother knew our family had done the right thing, she never could say goodbye to her mother without crying.
As a young woman, my grandmother worked in a commercial laundry in Hope, Arkansas. The chemicals she inhaled for so many years permanently damaged her lungs as well as her sinuses. She suffered from frequent upper respiratory illnesses her entire life. She lost one of her daughters to an illness at the age of two, leaving just the four other daughters. Addie never stopped grieving over the loss of Helen May or her husband Carl.
I’m not sure what Mamaw Carr suffered all those years, but I know she had very little in the way of material possessions. As a young teenager, I remember my dad’s installing a bathroom in her house during one of our visits. Before that, we bathed in an aluminum tub she stored on the back porch. My mom would bring it into the kitchen and heat pans of water on the gas stove. While that happened, she put some cold water from the well spout into the tub and then added the hot water so she could bathe my sister and me together.
At night, Mamaw placed chamber pots under each bed for us to use. During the day, we walked down a trail to the outhouse to use the toilet. How my grandmother survived most of her life without conveniences that I consider necessities, I do not know. As I said, she exhibited strength unknown to me at the time.
Two special items belonging to my grandmother included her set of green Depression glass dessert cups and pie plates and a set of the three alabaster monkeys (see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil). She gave me the Depression glass during one of my visits as a young adult. After she died, I received that set of monkeys as a reminder of my grandmother.
Mamaw Carr took great pride in everything regardless of her poverty. She kept an immaculate house, cooked delicious meals, and maintained an impeccable appearance. I remember the phrase she used every morning shortly after rising from bed—“I have to fix my face.” She sat at her dressing table and applied face powder, rouge, and lipstick. I never saw her without her dentures, nor did I ever see her look messy. I learned a lot about pride of person from her in the way she lived and the way she handled the adversity in her life.
How I wish I had told her of my admiration before she died! Like so many young adults, I never saw death coming or affecting me so personally. Thankfully, I learned lessons of gratitude, patience, sacrifice, and pride from my grandmother who lived a life immensely harder than mine.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing