Great-grandmother McGee always did things in her own style

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 4, 2006

Love Cruikshank, Love Notes

Mary Anne (Lowe) McGee, my father’s maternal grandmother, my great-grandmother, has been dead now for more than 75 years. I had just turned 14 when she completed her earthly journey, but few people remain as sharp in my memory for so many years.

I wish my memory were based on mutual kindness and tender affection. We both tried, victims of the clan rules of an older time that bind the most distant relatives together even if their proximity makes them want to take to their heels and run for their lives.

She gave me so much to think about when I was a child and growing up that it’s strange I know so little about her.

We were not a family that was ignorant about our relatives. We didn’t always agree about their origins and adventures, but we had pretty definite concepts.

I knew what my great-grandmother McGee’s maiden name was but I didn’t know what her mother’s maiden name was.

I knew the maiden name of my mother’s maternal grandmother. I also knew the maiden name of her great-grandmother.

I don’t think that my great-grandmother McGee was in any way secretive about her family. She just wasn’t interested. She and her husband, John Harvey McGee, according to one of my uncles, came from &8220;the Illinois Territory.&8221; I knew that my great-grandfather had fought in the Civil War, had been wounded in battle, had been hospitalized and had spent most of his time in hospital helping to care for those worse off than he was.

Mary Ann visited the sick, too. I’ve always thought they might have lived longer if she hadn’t. There was the &8220;black diphtheria&8221; plague in Nebraska, while my mother was a school girl. Whole families were swept away by it.

Although she’d never had the disease, my great-grandmother, &8220;a born again Christian,&8221; felt it was her manifest duty to visit the sick and the dying.

I wasn’t school age when she used to get me off in a corner away from everybody else and talk about her visits to the sick.

&8220;You could always tell when they’d come to the end,&8221; she’d say mournfully, &8220;That little hollow in their throats would fill up and they’d be gone.&8221;

She always remembered to add the moral to the story, too. There was always some young and pretty girl dying, &8220;And on the Saturday she came down sick,&8221; my great-grandmother McGee would say in a disapproving tone, &8220;Hadn’t she been out to a PUBLIC DANCE?&8221;

&8220;Oh more than one of those unhappy young women would moan to me, &8216;I was at a dance, Mrs. McGee, can I be saved?’ And, child, I’m a born again Christian. You have to tell the truth and shame the devil. I always said to them who asked, &8216;Not a chance of it.’&8221;

I was too young to know exactly what she was talking about, but I can tell you she gave me the creeps.

She was in some ways agenerous woman. I had a cousin 13 months older than I, ever so pretty and my great-grandmother’s favorite. I had a red raincoat and my cousin wanted one like it. Granny was more than willing to get her the raincoat, but not one like mine.

Despite the fact that I was much smaller than my cousin, that we went to different schools and such, my great-grandmother was concerned that I was trying to have my cousin get a coat like mine so I could steal it. By that time I’d developed a sort of indifference to everything the woman said.

I’ve been grateful to her all my life, though, because as soon as she found out my parents didn’t want me to have a dog, she bought me one. A dear little fox terrier who throughout his happy life was my dearest friend. For once I felt that maybe she was a born again Christian.

She was a small woman. She had a gift for gardening, but planted no vegetables. Nor did she want fruit. Fat meat, whipped cream pies, that’s what she liked and that’s what she ate. All the calorie-laden food we’re warned against. I doubt if she ever weighed as much as 80 pounds in her entire life.

In the 14 years I knew her I never knew her to walk up a flight of stairs or clutch the banisters as I do. She gave meaning to &8220;sweeping up the stairs&8221; she always took them at a run.

Everyone in the town where she lived called her &8220;Granny McGee.&8221; Because her husband paid her a compliment when she was wearing an attractive dress, according to one of my aunts, she cast it aside as carnal and from then on wore nothing but gingham and calico.

It was, perhaps, her style of dressing that gave her townspeople the notion that she was in need. They’d bring her little gifts of food, far too wholesome for her tastes. She’d pass them along to someone who didn’t need fat pork roasts and whipped cream pie. She was grateful, though, and always bought a King James version of the Bible as a return gift.

I think she found life interesting and was always respected by those who knew her when she was young for the many many rattlesnakes she killed. Cut off their heads with a garden hoe.

(Albert Lea resident Love Cruikshank’s column appears every Thursday.)