So I was a blessed child, for I had yet another grandmother. I called her Grandmother Bradley, but today that seems far more formal than the way she was. My paternal grandmother’s name was Bessie Bryan Briley Bradley.
Her husband was John Ernest Bradley, and as a young man, he became friends with E. L. and Julia Briley, known locally as Mr. Ed and Miss Julie. You may recall that Miss Julie was my beloved Grandma Briley.
Once when working on their farm, he happened to see Ed’s daughter Bessie, who had brought some water to the men in the field. At this time, he was 22 and she was 8 years old. Her sprinkle of freckles, snapping brown eyes, and contagious smile won his heart.
“That’s the prettiest little girl I ever did see,” John said to the field hands. “When she grows up, I’m going to come back and marry her.” Today that seems a bit predatory, but those were simpler times.
And John was true to his word. When Bessie was 14, he began courting her, and when she was 15, on December 3, 1911, they were married by a preacher who was standing beside their buggy. As the wedding ceremony was completed, they rode away together, and stayed married for almost 70 years, until John died just short of his 99th birthday.
Grandmother was first of all a homemaker, but also sewed clothes or upholstered furniture for people, worked in the strawberry factories, or clerked in small stores. She and Granddaddy had a strong work ethic and lived frugally. Granddaddy was especially known for pinching pennies, so Grandmother would keep her earnings separate in order to buy something he wouldn’t want to pay for. She loved the Lillian Russell bedroom suite she bought with her strawberry plant money.
Each summer I would spend a week with this grandmother, too, but this week wasn’t for pampering. Even though Granddaddy Bradley had the first television of anyone I knew, I only watched the shows they watched at night—“You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx or “Highway Patrol” with Broderick Crawford. Kate Smith was also a favorite. I can still hear her singing “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.”
During that week, we worked in the garden, or made grape jelly, or went to Ladies’ Bible Class. But mainly Grandmother sewed for me. Before my visit, we had gone to stores to see what styles I liked and then to fabric stores to buy material and patterns. From her I learned the basics of sewing—cutting, basting, fitting, etc. Grandmother made no effort to teach me to sew, but she gave me small tasks that ended up with my having a pretty good grasp of the process in making a dress. One week, she made me four dresses. What a treasure I took home!
As gardening and yard work became more difficult, she turned to indoor activities. She usually had a quilt in process, whether being pieced or in quilting frames. And winter usually demanded a jigsaw puzzle on a card table in the living room. This in addition to her other sewing and crocheting.
When I visited her after I was an adult, she mentioned that she and Granddaddy no longer slept together, but in adjacent rooms since he snored so much. Granddaddy was in his nineties by then, so it seemed quite practical to me. But then she added more information than I was ready for: “Sometimes I do sleep in his bed, though. You know he’s a man, and we still like to get together that way sometimes.” The twinkle in her eye let me know that they were not missing out on the sexual side of marriage just because they were old.
I happened to be with her on my 48th birthday. As we talked, since she was 96, I said, “Grandmother, I am now the age you were when I was born. Do you recall how you felt then?”
“Oh, yes! I remember well. But I don’t feel much older than 48 right now. It’s funny how your body wears out before you know it but inside you feel the same as ever.”
Then she went back to when she was 48. “Of course Lawrence and Mary didn’t have a phone to tell us she was in labor, so on their way to the hospital they came by Portland and picked me up to go with them. I really appreciated that.” Her two grandsons had been born in Washington, D. C., so of course she hadn’t been with them at their births. And, as it turned out, I was her only granddaughter ever, so she always made me feel special.
One thing apparent about her was how she became blunter and more straightforward in her conversation as she got older. She had always spoken her mind, but more on practical matters than on verbalizing her observations.
She told me, “I can see I’m not going to make it to 100 liked I’d hoped. I never did beat John at anything, and I really did want to live longer than he did. But that’s not going to happen. Oh, well. It’s not important–just something I always had in my mind.”
When she met my future daughter-in-law, Gina, who had lots of dark curly hair, she said to Josh in Gina’s presence, “She sure has a head of hair on her, doesn’t she?”
When she saw my sister-in-law from California after several months’ absence, she said, “I believe you’ve put on right smart weight!”
But that bluntness had a good side, too. When Steve and I had teenagers with us we would often stop by to see her. She’d look each young man right in the eye and ask, “Are you planning to be a gospel preacher when you grow up?” She got some squirms along with the mumbled answers, but she had planted a seed.
Grandmother would always turn off the television or close her Bible immediately when we entered the room. She was a people person and didn’t want anything to interfere with our conversation.
For the last few years before she died the day after her 97th birthday, her favorite Bible was a large print King James Version New Testament. It had been falling apart, so I had it rebound for her. She would often want to talk about something she’d discovered that she didn’t remember hearing about or reading before.
When we were cleaning out her room after her death, Mother handed me the hefty New Testament that had belonged to her mother-in-law.
“I think you should have this,” she said. Inscribed on the flyleaf is: “To Mother, From Lawrence, Mary, and Lanita, October 7, 1948.” What a treasure!
What are your grandmother memories?