I've had this piece done for awhile now, but just haven't found the "voice" to tell the story that goes along with my Bead Journal April-Secret Treasure. I think waking up this afternoon and realizing it is Mother's Day also got me to thinking about finally what to write about my treasure the resides in the beaded April jar. This is about my Maternal Great Grandmother, Rosa Bell Gray. My whole life she has been an idol to me. She grew up in a log cabin in the hills of Northern Kentucky in coal country. She married young, had two children, and lost her husband in one of the killer floods the area is known to have. She then took her two small children and worked in a boarding house cooking for the miners. She enjoyed this life because she was independent, but she always was thinking of the life of her two small children and wanted to get them away from the coal mines and the place their Daddy died. So, she met my Great Grandfather while he was visiting the area, feel in love with him, and moved up North to Portsmouth Ohio. This was in 1912. She told me moving to Ohio was a shock as the city was so noisy and filled with people. But she joined a church, met the neighbors and began to have children with her new husband. Her first child in Ohio was my Grandmother, Mae.
From the very first moment that I remember Grandma Gray (everyone else called her Mom, but I just couldn't do that) she handed me a needle and thread, turned me around, and marched me into her quilting parlor (ie, the front bedroom of her shot gun house where the quilting frame was set up permanently). She then taught me how to make tiny even stitches and though my great aunts told me they were crooked, she never criticized me ever! She said I'd get better with time and practice. Couple things about her. She always wore an apron. She had a collection of aprons and every day she'd put on a cleaned and pressed apron. Then she'd get out one of her brooches and put it on her dress...did I say also that she always got up at 5 am to do her chores? Sometimes when she'd go out, she'd forget to take her apron off as it was just a part of her. I can't tell you how many times she'd go to church & there would be that apron! Another thing about her was that she detested television. She said it was the devil's box and was making people stupid. That was back in 1967. Can you imagine what she'd say now? But she loved her radio. Sometimes I stay overnight with her and we'd sit in matching rocking chairs doing a bit of embroidery on scarves listening to radio shows. Not music, but plays and sometimes talk radio. She also LOVED to talk, gossip, and laugh!
When I was in 9th grade, for a school English project we had to write about the one person who influenced us the most. I wrote about my Great Grandma and got an A. When my Mother read my paper, she was shocked that I thought of just a house wife as my idol. GG wasn't just a housewife to me. She was independent, spoke as an equal to anyone, was an artist, and just downright enjoyed life...period! My Mother made me take that paper to Grandma Gray, and I was shaking when I let her read it. She smiled & told me she had a surprise for me the next weekend. She was going to take me to Kentucky so I could see where she lived. GG never drived, but she got my Great Uncle David and Great Aunt Rosie to go with us. We all packed into the car & headed across the Ohio River bridge into Kentucky and drove, and drove, and drove these long narrow lanes up hills, down hill, across rivers, and through meadows. It was lunch time and we stopped in front of this General Store that looked like something out of a Walton's episode. Inside the store the aroma of spices and hidden delights attacked my nose. The walls were covered with shelve of all kinds of items from bolts of fabric to Kodak cameras. Around the counter were barrels full of crackers, corn meal, and other things I didn't open to peak at. On the counter were glass jars with candy, pig ears, beef jerky, and sewing items. The middle of the store had a pot belly stove roaring with a fire as it was late October, and yes! there were two rocking chairs facing the fire. GG sat in one chair & motioned me to sit in the other. From behind the counter came a shrunken old man who rushed over to GG..."Rosa? Rosa? Is that really you???" He remembered her after all those years. She laughed her big laughed, got up and hugged him tight. They'd been neighbors when she was growing up. They both sat as I wondered the General Store filling any moment that I motion picture camera would pop out to remind me that I was just in a movie. After having a sandwich made up at the counter and drinking a ice cold 6 oz Coke, we all headed back to the car and on with our trip. We then went to the log cabin where she was born and where her older brother still lived and farmed the land. It was dark, smoky, and had a packed dirt floor. Could this be real in 1969? But it was. He was living there with his Grand daughter who was older than my Mother. I went outside to look at the Kentucky foot hills ablazed with color and thought this indeed was a different world than the small river city town my parent moved too. I couldn't imagine what these people would say if they had been transported to Los Angeles where I grew up. They'd probably be feeling they were part of a movie just as I was feeling. It was a wonderful trip. And I'm so blessed that she showed me her life before moving to "the big city". She was a wonderful person.
Later on, when I met Chris in college back in our hippie days, she was the only person in my family who would "allow" Chris into her house. Why? We didn't get married. Back then we didn't believe in "establishment matrimony" but believe in marriage of the soul. No one let Chris into their house thinking that he refused to marry me. On the contrary...I didn't want to marry! One day, when I took Chris to met GG afraid she'd say the same thing, she stood up as tall as a 4 foot 11 inch woman could with her hands on her hips and told me that she didn't care what my Grandparents and Mother thought...If I loved him, then I loved him and that was good enough for her! We went inside drank some coffee, had some cookies, and were embraced in the warmth of her love. She never judge anyone by society standards. She just loved everyone.
When she died, she didn't have a large estate. When she turned 85 she gave me lots of old photographs as she thought her days were numbered, but she managed to live to 93 vital and without help from anyone. She just called my Grandmother one day, said "Mae, I'm going to die. Come visit me" and three days later she passed away peacefully in the same room where she'd had her children. As the oldest Grand daughter, I was asked what I wanted to remember Grandma Gray. I decided that I wanted one of the brooches she's always wore. Some of the rhinetones were missing, but I got two pieces. I chose this one for my secret treasure box as I remember she wore it to church many times. For the top of the box, I chose the cab of a majestic tree spreading its limbs out to embrace the sky. This cab is exactly what my Great Grandmother did every single day of her life. I wish I could have lived closer to her later in her life so I could have gotten to know her as an adult. We wrote to each other and I visited when in town, but you know how busy you get when you're young and trying to "find" yourself.
I do have two other items from Grandma Gray that I'll treasure forever. The first is my hand pieced baby quilt that she made for me when I was born. The other is a quilt she made for me when I graduated from high school and went away up North to Columbus where "it has to be so cold". They are both worn as I did use them. They are in my cedar chest and when I open it up and see those tiny even stitches, I remember her threading my needle, and guiding my hand. She still guides me. Love you Grandma. Happy Mother's Day.