December 11, 2006

99 Things About my Mother and 1 Thing about her Mother.

1) My mother is Irish to her marrows.

2) She has the dark red hair and the green eyes to prove it.

3) And the temper.

4) I didn’t get the thick, curly auburn tresses (dernit), but she gave me the green eyes, same size, same shape.

5) When I look in the mirror, her eyes look back at me.

6) She gave me the temper, too. Oh, yeah. Believe it.

7) She grew up in Leighton, Alabama which is just north of absolutely nowhere…

8) Leighton is the town I thought of when I was making Possett, the town where gods in Alabama, a host of short stories, another short, early unpublished novel of mine, and several of my plays are set.

9) When my mother was growing up in Leighton and when I was a girl, visiting it with her, it REALLY had those three tin gardening sheds sitting side by side, with a long board nailed over their doors, and on the board someone had hand-painted the words “Fire Department, Police Department, Jail.”

10) They had a general store with an ice cream and hamburger counter in the back. My mother used to get me chocolate malteds there.

11) My mother’s life seeps into my fiction more than any other life.

12) Maybe even more than my own.

13) Genny and Stacia, the twins in Between, Georgia, for example, probably came out of my mother’s stories of a pair of deaf ladies who lived in Leighton. They were twins, and they owned a candy shop.

14) My mother’s daddy worked land that was owned by the kind of people who could afford candy like that.

15) The candy store sold fancy chocolates in ribboned boxes, but they also had a glass display counter full of what my mother called “fudges and confections.”

16) When I was a little kid, I had no idea what a confection was. I thought it sounded like some sort of fancy hat, and that’s what I pictured: My mother as a small red haired girl, staring through glass at trays of fudges sitting between fancy hats with long plumes trailing into the chocolate.

17) She still uses that word for candies, but now I think now it means hand-dipped creams. I am not positive, though.

18) My mother and her family lived outside of town in a little white house that looks a LOT like the house Arlene Fleet grows up in with her Aunt Florence and Uncle Bruster in gods in Alabama.

19) There was a rich man in town named Uncle Doc. That’s what everyone called him, anyway, and my Grandmother had sharecropped his land all through her girlhood. EVERY TIME they passed Uncle Doc’s fine house, my grandmother would say to my mother, “See that fancy house? That should be ours. It was built on the bones of my back. See those pecan trees? Those are rightful mine. I bent down to grub the nuts up off that dirt, every year. See that cotton field? I picked ten thousand bags of cotton, four hundred pounds each, and dragged them my own self to store it safe in my house. It filled my house up to the roof, and I slept outside in the grass all summer. That field is rightful mine, too.”

20) If she had a little extra money, my grandmother would take my mother into the fancy candy store with its fudges and confections.

21) My mother and her older sister could each choose one thing from the display case. One of the twins would pick the single piece of candy up with tongs and place it in a brown paper sack, like a lunch bag in miniature.

22) My mother had never seen little bags like that. She saved them long after the piece of candy was gone.

23) My mother was and is a raving beauty. Really.

24) She was homecoming queen.

25) There were two sororities in her high school. One was for the rich popular girls, and one was for good, sweet girls who made good grades, but who came from poor families.

26) My mother was in the SECOND sorority.

27) Girls from the FIRST sorority were always prom and homecoming queen.

28) My mother won anyway.

29) The being a raving beauty part helped.

30) It ALSO helped that the captain of the football team was her steady fella.

31) When she was 19, she married that same guy, and I know him as “Daddy.”

32) They got married so young because her father wouldn’t hardly let them out of his sight.

33) They would sit out on the porch swing talking with the lights blazing, and my grandfather would stand at the window and stare out them.

34) At nine o’clock (or whenever he wanted my daddy to leave) he would lean out of the door and say “Let’s all play mouse. Everyone go to their own little house.”

35) When my brother Bobby and I were little, after church and lunch on Sundays, my mother would say, “Let’s all play mouse. Everyone go to their own little house.”

36) Then my brother and I would have to go be quiet and play and read or nap in our rooms at one end of the house while our parents, holding hands, would disappear down the hall to their own room.

37) At the time, Bobby and I didn’t get why Daddy thought that mouse thing was so funny, but he’d grin and grin every time Mom said it.

38) My mother and I spent my entire young womanhood locked in a huge battle of wills----matching Irish tempers, remember.

39) If ANYONE ELSE went to war with me, my mother would turn on a dime and stand beside me and be my best ally and defender and slaughter them and lay waste to all their cattle and slay their families lo unto the seventh generation.

40) Then she and I would fight some more.

41) We don’t fight now.

42) I finally figured out it was dumb to fight with someone who is so constantly on my side.

43) Remember when I told you
100 things about my father ? And I said that it must have been hard growing up as his son, trying to live up to the kind of phenomenal human being my dad is, but that it was supremely easy to be his daughter? Well, it was hard being my mother’s daughter.

44) She’s intimidatingly beautiful and elegant and understands accessories.

45) She is naturally gifted at everything girls are supposed to be good at—perfect wife, devoted mother, capable of organizing and running a busy household on a shoe string budget with grace and aplomb, while I was (and still am) a wild-eyed scabby disorganized spastic tomboy who, at 38, still doesn’t know how to blow dry her own hair.

46) My brother says it was supremely easy to be her son.

47) My recipes may still be on crumpled scraps of paper scattered in fifteen different places all over the house, so THAT was a lost cause, but she did manage to teach me how to be a good mother.

48) It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to be like her for her to value the weird things I am good at, and for her to think I am the best daughter.

49) When I fought her, I was fighting myself, because I was trying to be her and mucking it all up.

50) One day, I quit trying to be her and started being me instead.

51) I was terribly afraid that she would see me as a failure.

52) Instead, she said to me, “Joshilyn! I think you are finally growing up!”

53) She’s proud of me.

54) She’s proud of my work, although SECRETLY she wishes I hadn’t used the F word QUITE so many times in gods in Alabama.

55) She is, no really, the best grandmother on the planet. Bar none.

56) She will play LUCKY DUCKS for AN HOUR after I would have dug out my eardrums with forks to escape the incessant mechanical quacking.

57) She is capable of ACTUALLY listening to Sam talk about Pokemon cards instead of just saying MMM-HMM and YOU DON’T SAY whenever the child has to pause to breathe.

58) On one side of Mother’s family tree are the Clardys.

59) It’s hard to find a living Clardy. The ones who didn’t die because their livers leapt out of their throats and squirmed away to escape the constant barrage of homemade "licker" all shot each other.

60) My grandfather was a Baptist preacher and so my mother was not allowed to go dances because dancing was a sin.

61) Movies were also sins, and so she never saw them growing up.

62) She still prefers a book, and constantly read to me and my brother when we were growing up. She also let us go to movies.

63) When she got to high school my grandfather would forbid her from going to dances with my dad, and then my grandmother would make her a dress in secret and use hidden stores of the money she made sewing to buy my mother department store white gloves so she could go.

64) My mother has what she calls a “critical eye.”

65) She can SEE when things are wrong in any physical space.

66) Her home is called BJ’s Knob because it sits up on a hill.

67) And because she names things like homes and cars.

68) She’ll put out little things on a table: An antique crystal candy dish, a small oil painting on a stand, a dried clay ash tray that was clearly made by either a 3 year old or a dyspeptic, blind weasel, and they will somehow all work together and be perfect, colors and shapes balanced and harmonious.

69) I suspect she is magical.

70) Her critical eye is her blessing and her curse.

71) It’s a curse because she is driven insane by imperfections no one else can see.

72) While BJ’s Knob was being built she looked at the skeletal frame and said, “That wall is in the wrong place.”

73) My dad poo poo’d her and the architect poo poo’d her and the builder poo poo’d her and later, after it was built, she got a tape measure and the plans, and sure enough, the wall was six inches off.

74) She could see the six inches missing from the unbuilt room, when not even the builders could.

75) It is her blessing because she can take leftovers and scraps and hand me downs and make a place beautiful and welcoming. She can do this in the kitchen, too, just go into a wasteland of a fridge with nothing in it and find an old packet of frozen chicken and some olives and come out 40 minutes later with a beautiful meal.

76) Every place I have ever lived, any room that looks like a HOME and not a just room with crap in it, she has done for me.

77) She did my peaceful crocodile green office with its spots-n-stripes mod-pod window treatments where I am sitting to type this.

78) She based the room on one of my most valued possessions --- a signed, limited edition Rene Van Den Neste.

79) It’s a surreal wasteland with a melting cat and a fat unmelted cat sailing across the green sky on a space-slash-flying-pirate ship with breasts. She is not crazy about it.

80) She made the room be a beautiful place that sets off my painting’s colors and draws the eye to it because she knows I am crazy about it.

81) Mom was supposed to be a boy. The family already had a much adored girlchild they had named Ruby Jewel.

82) Mom was called Emmett O’Neil Grissom in the womb, and when she came out an obvious non-Emmett, no one had a name ready for her.

83) Eventually the county doctor had to send his paperwork in, so he wrote, “No Name Baby Girl Grissom,” on the birth certificate.

84) My mother did not know she hadn’t ever been named until she needed a passport to go overseas (Daddy was army) and had to order a copy of her birth certificate.

85) She asked her parents how she came to be called Betty Joyce, and her mother told her that one day, when she was several months old, Aunt Nadine passed through the room and said, “If I’se you, I’d call that baby Betty.”

86) It stuck.

87) I loved it when that movie Clueless came out and coined the phrase “Bettty” to mean “beautiful girl.”

88) Ruby Jewel and Betty Joyce both thought they had country girl names, and so they where allowed to name their MUCH younger sister.

89) They named her Susan Regina because they thought it sounded sophisticated.

90) My mother named me Joshilyn Elizabeth.

91) To this day NO ONE but my mother knows the reason for the silent H in the middle of my name. When people ask me at signings why my name is SPELLED Josh-a-lyn but pronounced Joss-a-lyn, I have a host of answers.

92) Sometimes I say, “I don’t know. You want my mother’s phone number? Maybe she will tell you. She has never told me.”

93) Sometimes I say, “My mother is from rural Alabama. They spell stuff funny down that way.”

94) Sometimes I say, “My mother says she saw it written like that in an old family Bible diary or journal or something?” but I have never personally seen such a book.

95) She also used to tell me it was the Old English version of the French Name Jocelyn, but I studied Medieval theatre in grad school, and the old English version is actually Joslin, which was a boy’s name.

96) Betty is short for Elizabeth.

97) Joshilyn sounds like a longer, more elegant version of Joyce.

98) As a child, I didn’t see the way our names are connected or realize that Joshilyn Elizabeth grew out of Betty Joyce, but now I see they are so so close, they are practically the same thing.

99) That’s a metaphor.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

1) My grandmother had a long, full life. She was 84 or possibly 86---no one is sure, as she, like many southern women, lied about her age. She did a lot of things in that time, good things and bad. She experienced horrible sorrows and had beautiful triumphant moments and lived a host of plain brown forgotten days where she did her work and slept and rose to do it again all the same. But of all the things she ever did, good, bad, or indifferent, the best thing, the very best thing, was to make and raise the extraordinary woman who became my mother.

Sara Lee Grissom 192? – December 9, 2006.
Godspeed, Gramma.

Posted by joshilyn at December 11, 2006 10:34 AM

Godspeed, Joshilyn's Grandma.

PS I love the phrase "plain brown forgotten days" to the point where it just made me weep.

Posted by: Aimee at December 11, 2006 10:54 AM

Thank you for sharing your mother with us today as you (and she and your whole family) mourn the loss of your grandmother. I'm sorry for your loss but loved hearing of the connections (and confections). Peace.

Posted by: Lilymane at December 11, 2006 11:17 AM

This is beautiful. Much like the one you made for your father. Thank you for sharing her with us.

Posted by: kristen at December 11, 2006 11:24 AM

Wow, what a wonderful tribute. Godspeed Granma Grissom, Godspeed.

Joss you always give me the most delightful things to steal from your blog. I don't have your wonderful way with words, your delightful wit, but thank you for the ideas and sharing the insights of you. Thank you.

Posted by: Cele at December 11, 2006 12:41 PM

Oh man, you and your mom and your gramma made me cry. Bless you all with beautiful blessings.

Posted by: lizardek at December 11, 2006 1:38 PM

Only you could see past the other facets of your grandma to arrive at a place of utter gratitude because she was the beginning of your mother. That was beautiful, and I totally get why your mother is proud of you.

Hell, I'm proud of you.

Posted by: Mir at December 11, 2006 3:16 PM



Love this, gives me an idea for my blog. Thank you!

Posted by: Liise at December 11, 2006 3:30 PM

You are a tribute to your gandmother (and mother).

Godspeed Grandma! (And I picture Grandma making sure that the angels are steering properly and that St. Peter has the gates properly polished and squared!)

Posted by: Kelly at December 11, 2006 4:28 PM

I know no higher tribute than the one you paid your grandmother. The most supremely lovely thing she did was to rear your mother to rear you. I think the circle of strong, determined, beautiful women will be unbroken.

Posted by: Roxanne at December 11, 2006 7:06 PM

Wow. *sitting here in awe* If you aren't a wonder, Joss. I was just dying to make a comment about dispeptic, blind weasles and then you went and sprung that beautiful eulogy. Just lovely. God bless.

Posted by: David at December 11, 2006 7:10 PM

God Bless, Sara Lee, may you rest in peace.

I too have a southern Mama (Virginia) from a poor family and she, in turn, had a Mama who was hard to understand but who raised a strong, beautiful woman. You know, Joshilyn, sometimes living up here with all my Yankee in-laws, I'm hard pressed to explain why I'm proud to call myself a southerner. You're the kind of southerner I'm proud to be -- kind, funny, fierce and keenly aware from whence we came.

Posted by: Carrie (in MN) at December 11, 2006 9:03 PM

God speed Ms Grissom
And hugs to you and yours Joss.

Posted by: kim at December 11, 2006 9:20 PM

My thoughts are with you and your family, Joss, and I hope your grandmother is at peace.

Your mom sounds like a really wonderful woman. Thank you so much for sharing the 99 things about her with us.

Posted by: DebR at December 11, 2006 11:40 PM

What an amazing legacy of women. Thanks for sharing this. Thoughts and prayers to you and your family during this time.

Posted by: Kim G. at December 12, 2006 12:02 AM

Beautiful, just absolutely beautiful. What a love letter.

Posted by: Laura at December 12, 2006 12:55 AM

Joss, you should put all these "100 Things" entries in a book - a published one and/OR a handwritten one - for your children. Every time you do these I am nearly brought to tears. They are so beautiful.


Posted by: b at December 12, 2006 7:56 AM

Thanks for sharing this. You write beautifully and must make your entire family so very proud.

Posted by: Keetha at December 12, 2006 10:24 AM

Beautifully done. Godspeed to her and my condolences to you and your family.

Posted by: inkgrrl at December 12, 2006 5:32 PM

That was beautiful. Soounds like your family has it's fair share of amazing women. Quite a legacy to live up to.

God bless you and yours.

Posted by: Sheri at December 12, 2006 8:32 PM

Whew!! Absolutely all-enveloping of a mother-daughter relationship!! Amazing clarity, wit and charm, Joshilyn!!

Deep personal condolences, at the loss of your precious Gramma!!)))Hug(((


Posted by: North at December 12, 2006 11:03 PM

Pssst.. I put your two books on my santa-list, and this website, to "gittem" as only a signed one will do!

Anyone from Kirkland Lake, order me your books for christmas yet, or am I getting a lump of no?"

Posted by: North at December 12, 2006 11:06 PM

Your words made me cry. Was that your goal? if so, mission accomplished.

Like most everyone else here, I'll echo that this was a beautifully moving tribute to your Gramma. Sometimes, it takes only one thing to make a life exceptional. With your list, you show us that your Gramma's life was truly exceptional. We have all been blessed by your Gramma, because she gave life to YOUR momma, and that brought YOU into this world.

Hugs and love to your family in this very difficult time. You're still in my thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: dee at December 13, 2006 12:27 AM

Oh baby. I'm so sorry about your Gramma. And so, so blessed by this beautiful post. No doubt your Mama is proud. You and she will both be in my prayers today.

Oh and #44? My Mama too! Maddening. ;)

Posted by: Amy-Go at December 13, 2006 9:19 AM

You have an amazing way with words. I feel like I know your entire family from just reading this list.

Beautifully written, and not a bit saccharine. Fantastic.

Posted by: Angela at December 13, 2006 12:12 PM

How beautiful. I bet your mother cried when she read this, such a beautiful tribute. I'm very sorry for your grandmother.

Posted by: Laura Florand at December 13, 2006 6:16 PM

HUGS to you and your family after your Gramma's passing.

Posted by: Heather Cook at December 14, 2006 12:48 AM

My most sincere and heartfelt condolences on the passing of your grandma.
Beautiful tribute to your mother.

Posted by: Heather at December 14, 2006 1:07 AM

Wait a minute! Ruby Jewel? Corey's Pawpaw and his twin brother BOTH married women named Ruby Jewel.

Posted by: Heather at December 17, 2006 10:36 PM