My grandmother — Daddy’s mother — sometimes was called “crazy” by others who didn’t quite understand her eccentric ways. Of course, in the South, we are proud of such a label because it means that we are interesting and worthy of being the center of coffee-and-cake conversation.
Who wants to be completely normal and boring?
If I had descended from a rational, reasonable, logical family, I would be working the window at a fast-food joint because I would have no stories to tell and, therefore, no career. I am grateful for every ounce of eccentricity that has ever flowed through the veins of anyone with whom I share blood.
When I was a kid, I was helping an old-maid aunt — as they were called in those days before political correctness overtook us and threw us to the ground — gather vegetables in her garden.
“Leave some of them tomatoes on that there vine,” she instructed.
I looked at the perfectly ripe, juicy tomatoes and studied them for a moment. I am, and was then, inquisitive. I always must know the reason behind every instruction or request.
“Why?” I asked. “They’ll start to rot in a day or two.”
She straightened up, took a small can of snuff from her apron pocket, opened it and took a pinch. Before she put it inside her lower lip, she smiled and said, “Because the Martians need sumptin to eat. Leave it for ’em.”
Thankfully, I watched re-runs of the old television show “My Favorite Martian,” so I knew she was talking about people from Mars. I opened my mouth to dispute such aliens existed, but closed it and shrugged. Maybe she was right. At least people like her are open to possibilities that sensible people are closed to.
Now, my grandmother — Maw-Maw we called her — was smart as a whip. She was educated in a way that few mountain people of her generation were. She became a practical nurse, then up and moved north to West Virginia, where she worked for years. And there, in the midst of people not our own, she grew smarter and wiser. When finally she returned, she carried herself with the confidence and air of a “Philadelphia lawyer,” as our people said whenever they saw someone extraordinarily smart and well-dressed.
But she definitely had her peculiarities. She heard voices from time to time — informative, friendly voices — and somewhere along the line, she took to toting a shotgun throughout the house and wherever she went because she was convinced that men walked on her roof at night and were “trying to drive me crazy.” She never answered a knock at the door without that trusty shotgun aimed and ready to defend. Whenever she took a notion, she shot a hole through the roof. Once, she was convinced she had mortally wounded one.
She smiled, pleased with herself. “I showed him,” she said.
Mama used to warn, “You girls better be careful. It’s in the genes.”
A cousin responded, “Yes, crazy runs in our family, but Jesus loves us anyway.”
Tink, my husband, was in L.A. when first I heard the voice. A woman’s voice. It was 6 a.m. and I had just risen when the mysterious voice popped up. She was authoritative and commanding, but I could not understand the few words she mumbled other than “Please.”
I emailed Tink and asked, “Do you have any idea where it’s coming from?”
“Have you been hearing this voice long?” he asked.
“Funny,” I replied. “I know we have a family history, but…”
It turned out to a warning voice from our alarm system, telling us a battery needed to be replaced soon.
But until I figured it out, it nearly drove me crazy. And, that’s one place I probably can get to on my own without any help.
It runs in the genes, you know.
Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.