Even in my tenderest years Granny Price was near death's door. How she managed to hang on twenty-five more years is a miracle. I can see the headline now...

Doctors Discover Secrets to Longevity

"In a study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine researchers describe the habits of a small pocket of rural Southern Baptists who defy actuarial odds with lifespans exceeding one hundred years... Scientists say their long lives may be linked to the consumption of six "co-colas" a day. Life-extending enzymes occur only in the small, thick, green glass bottles of Coke. Whitebread and butter sandwiches might aid in the metabolism of these miracle sodas. Sour dispositions and judgmental natures add decades as well...Despite debilitating diseases and "stove up" backs, these barrel-shaped old grannies in heavy black leather lace-up "sensible" shoes...Nobel Peace Prize winning scientists would conclude that small inaccessible mountain villages in Russia have nothing on the Deep South!"

Only her grandchildren saw this miracle as a good thing. Her grandchildren were flawless jewels misplaced in a box of tacky, cheap rhinestones.

Even her own children were in the rhinestone box. With her tongue she could dice, chop, mince and grind. And she sharpened her tongue on the whetstone of hellfire and damnation radio preachers. Her fierce blue eyes, magnified behind her bifocals, sent stray cats and ferocious dogs running.

Warm summer evenings Granny sat in her rocking chair, the one with the brass tacks, sitting by the window tsk-ing the neighborhood children and their parents for their wild ways and lack of supervision. She would punctuate her indictments with complaints about how she was "down in the back" or "full of nerves" or "having a sinking spell since last Friday."

"Jus' look at them children runnin' wild right in the parking lot and here it's almost dark. Their mamas don't even know where they are...probably don't even care." I join Granny at the window to see a gaggle of noisy little girls arguing over who will turn the rope and who will jump.

Her chair squeaked as she rocked back and forth on the polished concrete floor. She took another sip of Coke. "Get you some milk, sweetie. You don't want your bones to get old and stiff like your granny's."Speakin' of mamas, where's yours?" She raised her lip in disgust. "Out with some no good man? Probably drunk in a bar...I didn’t raise her to be such a hussy."

"Bible gives us all three score and ten. No need to buy fancy stuff when you’re livin’ on borrowed time. I pray everyday God will take me soon." Granny said this at least once every visit inviting me to protest and tell her how much I loved her. Her imminent death kept her from accepting any gifts except an occasional True Crime magazine. "It's a Christian’s job to keep up with the evil in the world."

The only nice thing she owned was the big radio set from Rich's. She arranged her day around evangelists from Waco, Tucson, and Biloxi. I half listened to her critical litanies, hearing not words but the voice of Granny love—the only unconditional human love I ever knew.

Jump rope rhymes hammered out by young rappers rose from the parking lot beyond the window "Pepsi Cola hits the spot/ Turn it up and make it hot" ...and the sky grew dark, one blue quilt thrown over another until the heavens were black..."one and a two"...now the radio begged listeners to send money in return for prayers or healing or riches to come.

"Them communists run the gov'ment, you know" she would declare, pressing her tissue against the base of her Coke bottle to absorb the sweat. "Hmm...what's a God-fearin' person to do?"

Today, Granny's homespun critique of the demise of the southern way of life would cut a wide swath across the paths of political correctness, but if anything, she was true to herself, and she had a firm opinion of how things should be.

And so, here I am years later, sitting in Granny's rocker by the bedroom window. I'm not that little girl anymore, and Granny's prayers were finally answered. Her memories keep me warm. Granny's love got me through some tough times. Her love, bittersweet. Like Granny, I'm always right. I laugh at myself. Lately I've been having a sinking spell. Seems it started last Friday.

©Copyright 2005 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.