Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Grandma: March 14, 1890 - August 1, 1969 - A Liberal Democrat

Lucy Weakley Hawkins was my grandmother.  She was born on Old Rag Mountain, in a place called Nethers, on March 14, 1890, 121 years ago yesterday.  She was a beautiful young woman who went to normal school and became a teacher.  She was noted all her life for her flaming red hair, and her flaming temper (in her later years, of course, the red wasn’t natural).  When I was little, all the country people around Old Rag (in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on Virginia’s Skyline Drive) called her “Miss Lucy,” and treated her with respect because she had been a teacher and with caution because of her temper.  Grandma told me once, in strictest confidence, that I was her favorite of her five grandchildren.  I believed her at the time, but since then I’ve come to wonder.  I loved to play gin rummy with her.  She cheated openly and often.  She was a horrible loser in cards and, I guess, in life.  I remember clearly cuddling on her magnificent bosom as a little boy.  She was a world–class cuddler.  And her bosom!!!  As a gay man, I can only suggest its impact on the straight men of her day.  It certainly had an impact on my grandfather, Henry.  Lucy and Henry had nine children, eight boys and one lone girl, the second oldest of their children, my Aunt Pauline.  I’ve always wondered whether her bosom as I knew it was the cause or the effect of those nine kids.

Lucy had a difficult life.  It started out very well, though.  A beautiful young woman, she was the proverbial bell of the ball.  She loved to dance.  She enjoyed the attention of men, but was a lady through and through, as one old coot told me one day.  I suspect he had been one of the many who unsuccessfully assailed Grandma’s virtue.  She loved my grandfather, though, and told me so many times.  He swept her off her Southern feet.  He was tall and handsome and had enough money to support a wife.  Grandma and he were married and had all those kids, and then, in 1933, when the youngest of the kids was two, he was killed trying to stop a fight between two fisherman on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  A year or so before his death, the youngest of his and Lucy’s kids was playing with matches and burned down their home in a little village called Woodville, Virginia.  My grandfather came up with enough money to buy 50 or so acres of land in the beautiful valley between Washington, Virginia, and Sperryville, Virginia.  On that land he built a wonderful house that remains in my family to this day.  The woodwork in the house, the size of its rooms, the wonder of its view of the mountains—all these have shaped my opinion of what a house should be.

After my grandfather’s death, Grandma was left to raise her sons and daughter alone.  In 1936, a freak tornado came through the town of Sperryville, Virginia, and killed her son, and my uncle, Marshall.  She buried her son next to his father in the family plot in Culpeper, Virginia.  Financial problems didn’t come until after the business collapsed that she had helped her oldest son, Gordon, build and run.  Money then became an issue.  She sold her beautiful home to my Aunt Pauline and her husband, and moved to Washington, D. C., in 1939.

She bough a really beautiful town house on Capitol Hill in Washington, 710 East Capitol Street, seven blocks from the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court.  When World War II started and her sons all went off to serve in the military, she started renting rooms.  She rented a room to my mother and my mother’s sister, both of whom were WAVES during the war.  My Mom and aunt roomed with her until the end of the war.  When my Dad came back from Germany after the war was over, he met my Mom and they were married.  Grandma’s house had an English basement that Grandma rented out as a one–bedroom apartment.  When Mom and Dad married, Grandma rented the apartment to them.  After I was born, it was to Grandma’s house that I was taken and in Grandma’s house that I spent most of the first three years of my life.  I remember clearly crawling up the stairs from the basement to Grandma’s kitchen and pounding on the door.  Grandma would let me in, and I would “help” her cook or clean or whatever.  Over the years, I spent many days with Grandma.  After Mom and Dad moved all of us to our new home in Alexandria, Virginia, Grandma would often take care of us during the summer.  I learned to love Southern cuisine, or at least my Grandma’s version of it.  To this day, green beans that aren’t cooked to almost a sodden state with tons of bacon fat taste “off” to me, and I have trouble eating them.  I have never had a biscuit as good as those my Grandma made each and every day.  Her iced tea is, to this day, my idea of perfection.  Grandma taught me how to set a table for dinner—formal and informal.  She taught me how to use my utensils at table and how to take care of my napkin (she always had cloth napkins, of course).  She taught me so many things!

On the wall in the nice upstairs hallway of Grandma’s house, right outside her bedroom, was a beautiful, large oil portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Grandma adored Mr. Roosevelt, or Franklin, as she called him.  Her youngest child, my Uncle Herbert, has Franklin as a middle name in the President’s honor.  From the time I was in diapers until she was about to die, Grandma taught me what was the political truth.  Republicans are the party of the rich and contented; Democrats try to take care of everybody.  Republicans are modern–day slave drivers; Democrats are the party of unions, and weekends, and the minimum wage.  Republicans don’t care if the common person lives or dies; Democrats gave us Social Security.  “You must NEVER vote for a Republican,” Grandma told me over and over, “They will ruin your life and ruin this country.”  She had raised her kids to believe the same things, but some of her other kids have voted Republican, including my Dad, who voted for Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.  I, though, learned the truth well and deeply from Grandma.  Never, not once, in all the times I have voted since the election of 1968, when I voted for Hubert H. Humphrey, have I ever voted for a Republican.  And I thank my prophetic Grandma for setting me in the path of righteousness at such an early age.

I look at what’s happening in our country today, and I am thankful that Grandma isn’t here to see her worst fears come to life.  I am thankful, too, that I knew this woman and that she gave me the benefit of her wisdom and grace.
I looked everywhere for a photo of Grandma.  I know I have a few, but I couldn't find any of them.  I'm posting a pic of FDR instead.  I know she'd be pleased!

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