Last week it was Daddy’s rules. This week, it’s Grandma’s. I think you’ll notice a difference in the nature of the rules and how they were enforced. Actually, it’s probably the difference in fathers and grandparents, and since I’m now a grandfather 10 times over (soon to be 11 times over), I understand better than I used to.
Here they are, as best I remember them, the rules from my kind, gentle grandmother, Josephine May Walker. Almost all of Grandma’s rules had to do with either my safety or, loosely speaking, my cleanliness or hygiene (which, when I stayed with Grandma and Papa out in the country in rural Washington County, left much to be desired). Here are some of Grandma’s rules with my comments.
Watch out for snakes: She must have told me this at least 1,000 times. It was never spiders, yellow jackets or dogs. It was always snakes. No, I’m not paranoid today about snakes. It’s a wonder. I can see why many people are. I’ll bet their grandmothers warned them to look out for snakes, too.
Don’t look in the well: She was afraid I’d fall in. She whipped me once (not hard enough to break an eggshell) for looking in the well. Within three minutes of her telling me not to, I was looking in the well. Then, for years after and until her death, she apologized and always ended with “you’re the only grandchild I ever spanked.” Well, I deserved it, and it should’ve been administered with more conviction.
Don’t walk in the dew (when barefooted): Grandma said I might get the ground itch. I never knew anyone to get the ground itch, but Dr. Dan Callahan did, and he straightened me out on this. Like snakes, this was an oft-repeated warning.
Don’t jump on the bed: Well, it was in the main living area -- combination bedroom and den -- and the temptation was mighty great. Sometimes, I jumped on the bed. So, what did Grandma do? She just repeated the rule: “Please, ‘Lally boy,’ don’t jump on the bed.” I quit, at least temporarily.
Wash your feet and legs before you go to bed: Now, I had been out all day long on dirt roads and in the fields with Papa and jumping ditches looking for maypops and building toady frog houses, and all I had to do was wash my legs and feet (in a little white porcelain pan on the back porch) before I went to bed. I didn’t have to wash my ears (which mother said were “scaly” when she and daddy came to Washington County to get me after, say, a two week visit in the country) or my face or my little tanned stomach or back -- just my feet and legs. That was it, and it was nice. Better than at home.
Two more I can remember. I’ll call one, “medical” and one, “safety.”
Get the kerosene: When any injury occurred, such as stumped toes and mashed fingers and cut fingers and toes (on two separate occasions, I cut my foot with the hatchet) it was always, “get the kerosene.” And it worked. A rag was soaked in kerosene and tied around the injury. It took the pain away, and it kept infection in check. That’s one reason I keep a can of kerosene on the farm today.
Say your prayers before you go to sleep: That was after we’d read the Bible together. I’d call that “safety.” Wouldn’t you?
Yes, Grandma, like Daddy, had her rules. Grandma’s were easier to live with, and if you didn’t exactly follow the rules, the results were not as severe. I sure did love her.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.