American Woman

She's a lady of her time. And her generation regarded chicken and dumplings as more important than college degrees.

“My mind ain’t what it used to be,” she said. “Wish you could’a seen me back then, I was smart.”

She’s ninety-four. Feisty as a pair of sandy underpants. Southern as ham hocks. Her hands look like prunes, she has a severely bad memory.

But she still remembers when we won the Great War. There aren’t many like her left.

“My first son was born during a coastal blackout, in Mobile. Hospital was lit up by candlelight. That’s war for you.”

She laughed.

“After the war, we felt like we’d triumphed over the Devil. That’s when everyone started saying things like, ‘I’m proud to be an American,’ because we were the good guys.”

She may be forgetful, but she’s a cheery little thing. More than anyone I’ve met in a while. And why wouldn’t she be? She can vaguely remember the old world. A world which has disappeared—along with console radios, trumpet music, and hamsteaks.

In her fragmented memories, she still attends baking parties—when women sipped tea and cooked all day in farm kitchens.

“Sometimes,” she said. “Four or five of us still get together and bake bread and cookies… No. Wait. I don’t do that anymore do I?”

She cursed herself.

“Sometimes I get confused.”

Anyway, what she means is:

She misses those days. When her kids would play in the barn while she tended kitchen. When she and her husband wandered into town with pocketfuls of change, just to take in a double-feature.

Nowadays, it sounds more like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Back then, it was a Thursday.

“Everything was less complicated,” she explained. “That’s why we were less ugly-acting. Today, folks are miserable. All our kids’re sad. Did you know, my granddaughter doesn’t even know how to bake. She’s too busy.”

She scoffed.

“Busy? When I’s a girl, we were BUSY baking peach cobblers. Or was it strawberry? No, blackberry.”

She’s foggy, but she’s no less sharp. She’s still a lady of her time. And her generation regarded chicken and dumplings as more important than college degrees. Sunshine and grass stains were daily life. Sliced persimmons predicted weather better than Jim Cantore. Breakfasts were twice the size of suppers.

In a way, her broken memory is a kind of blessing. Up there, things are still uncomplicated and easy.

“Things were so simple back then,” she said. “Maybe it was simpleness that kept us so happy. You know, happiness ain’t always about being happy. Sometimes it’s about not complaining.”

I looked up from my notepad. I asked if she’d repeat that last gem of advice.

As it happened, she’d already forgotten what she’d said.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because I don’t think I ever will.

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