We all feel cheated somehow as teens, but even on my most sullen day I knew I’d been granted the perfect Grandmother. From her cotton-white hair to her singsong name, Rosa Mae Canady was a vessel of sweetness and spreader of joy for 97 years. I first knew as the lifelong wife of a tough but loving man; a resourceful, horn-rimmed lady who wore a white an apron in the kitchen and matching hat and gloves to church. When her husband suffered a debilitating stroke one awful night, I saw my Grandmother assume a different role: as the ever-present caretaker of a proud but crippled man. Rosa Mae tended to Newett’s every need until his death a decade later, bringing to an end their sixty-one year marriage. By then she’d aged into Great-Grandmother status, a smiling, white haired lady who’d offer you hard candy when you didn’t want it and a hug whenever you did. What more could a boy ask for?
Of course to hear her tell it, she never accomplished very much: never owned her own home, never held a fancy job, never completed her education. Reluctantly, she’d dropped out school in the seventh grade, joining her mother in the cotton mills of Clayton, where she worked late and early to help feed her younger siblings. Rosa Mae Morgan never did go back to school, but she worked in sales for many years, her gentle smile and pleasing nature serving her well in the world of retail. Later in life, she managed a neighborhood newsstand and is reported to have run a very tight counter. Mostly though, she raised her three children through the ratcheting tumult of the mid twentieth century, feeding them well in every way. When they wed and began having babies, she continued her role as Soother in Chief, providing all with endless hope and a reservoir of reassurance.
By the time I came along, she had the joy of living down to a science, or should I say Faith. For more than seventy years she attended First Baptist Church, eventually becoming their oldest living member. She studied her Bible and read her daily devotional- along with the Goldsboro News-Argus. Countless are the times I sat on her couch, leafing through a stack of fading newsprint she was saving for a neighbor lady. She liked TV too. From Lawrence Welk to Carol Burnett to Dancing With the Stars, she’d watch it ALL. Imagine her delight when one of her seven grandkids started popping up on the local news in a series of bad neckties. She was proud of me and said so; as long as I didn’t interrupt her stories in the afternoon. The she offered me another piece of hard candy, despite the fact I never once took it.
She was well into her nineties before her body started failing. Her spirit never did; through a series hearing aids and prescription lenses, she remained as bright and lighthearted as the days when she was a pretty teenager winning boyfriends on the Carolina coast. For many precious years she was a steady presence at family gatherings, mining more joy from a single piece of pie than most folk could find with a fortune. Even to her more melancholy descendants, she was a living marvel - a gentle soul who never let a hardscrabble start or ailing old age take away her joy of living. It’s a trait I didn’t fully inherit but have studied up close for years. Only today, when this lady of limited means but infinite twinkle took her last breath before me, did I realize the lesson was done.
...What I’d give for some of her hard candy.