Grandmother Leopard

Grandmother Leopard

Families have a tendency to cast each other in roles. When I was a kid, I was generally my sisters’ cheerer-upper.

If my sisters were crying for any reason, it was generally thought that I, as the oldest, was somehow involved. Even if I weren’t involved, I “should have known better” than to let happen whatever it was that had happened.

Crying meant something bad had happened, so I felt it was in my best interest to cheer up and make my little sisters quit crying in times of trouble. At least while my parents were around.

But to be honest, we were a family who could stand trouble, but not sadness.  The epitaph on my Grandmother Leopard’s headstone reads “She was always laughing,” and she was.

A lot of people might have said she didn’t have much to laugh about. Grandmother Leopard was “crippled.”  She hadn’t been born that way, so it must have been polio that caused her leg to wither, but nobody knew for sure.  She learned to walk with a crutch her older brother John made from a sapling.

If there was one thing she wasn’t, it was “handicapped.”  She even learned to climb a tree. Grandmother Leopard was picking blackberries one spring, never realizing there was a bull in the field. When she saw the bull, and it saw her, she didn’t think she could make it to the fence before the bull did. She didn’t know whether she could make it up a nearby tree, either, but she did.

She made it through a lot of things. She lived through the Depression, raised 10 children, picked cotton, grew vegetables, cooked, cleaned, sewed and worked hard all her life.

Some of her sons went to war, and luckily, returned alive. But she outlived her husband and more than half of her children, so she knew about death.

She was in her late 80s when she got her crutches tangled up in her quilt frame, and fell, breaking her hip. She did what she usually did — laughed at her clumsiness then mopped the kitchen floor from a wheelchair.

Grandmother Leopard loved to laugh at herself — about the time she wrapped up the finger that wasn’t sore when she went to milk the cow, or the time she looked up from a praying at a funeral and saw that she had forgot to cut the price tag off her hat.

Most of the time, she was laughing so hard, she couldn’t finish the story, but it didn’t matter. We always knew how it ended.

Her worries, to me, didn’t seem like worries at all. If we didn’t make at least a quilt a year, she said, we’d freeze to death. If we didn’t know how to grow a garden and preserve everything that grew in it, we’d starve.

She tried to teach me how to card cotton, to make the batting for the quilt tops she and my grandmother and great-aunts spent piecing by hand whenever they sat down to rest from some other work.

Her fears were more basic than mine — hunger and cold — things that were only temporary inconveniences to me.

Things I was scared of — chickens, nuclear bombs and dying — they didn’t seem to bother her at all.

At our elementary school, we had bomb drills. In the event Khrushchev carried through on his threat to bury us, we were to get on our knees, under our desks and put our hands over our heads in order to survive a nuclear blast.

Some people had bomb shelters. We had a bomb bathroom. In case of a nuclear attack, the six of us were going to take shelter for who knew how long, in our tiny bathroom, the only room that didn’t have a window.

Every time I got a towel out of the linen closet, I saw the candles, the two jugs of water and the “canned goods,” that were supposed to tide us over until the radioactivity died down. I thought a lot about what it would be like to live in that bathroom.

I don’t think Grandmother Leopard believed in nuclear bombs. I guess a woman who had sent sons to war and had outlived more than half her children didn’t fear things like dying. To her, death it was just something that was.

Maybe she figured a person would be just as dead from being trampled by a bull.


Grandmother Leopard’s Tea Cakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, well beaten

Cream butter with sugar. Mix salt, flour and baking powder and work together with milk and egg. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut out. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Best served with strong, sweet tea and lots of laughter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.