My grandmother, Grace Caldwell Bayes, was born on May 20, 1910. When I was a child and needed a home, she took me in. I spent about half of my childhood under her care. She looked after me. She cared about me. Such things were at a premium in my spotty childhood.
She was a walking, breathing stereotype, tough as an old boot with a heart of gold. She was born on Mud Creek, in eastern Kentucky, 3 miles south of a godforsaken hamlet by the name of Tram. On the 1920 census, she’s listed as Gracie, 10 years old.
By the time I tumbled into her life, she had lived through two world wars and had birthed and raised seven daughters. She had four teeth, untreated diabetes, a bad case of arthritis, and bulging varicose veins.
Despite the aches and pains, I remember her working that old farm in her bare feet, day in, day out, singing songs about Jesus and warning me about the devil. She usually wore a big scarf around her head like a Russian peasant and looked twenty years older than her actual age.
I traipsed after her, wanting to help. Mostly, however, I was an overeager, inept little companion. But I tried to overcome that with my willingness to risk life and limb to win her approval.
We were partners, and we were always doing. Sometimes we would wander out into the fields foraging for a mess of greens. Other times we would kill a chicken. In the evenings we would sit on the porch and break green beans, and we would play word games and, in the fading light, she would tell me stories about the old times. About bad old times.
I still love words, like she did, and people tell me I’m a story-teller, like she was. I like to think that, like she was, I’m tough as an old boot, and I am certain that whatever kindness lies within me, I gained from her for she was the kindest person I have ever known. All of that is my inheritance. From Gracie, born on Mud Creek.
I’m grown now, grown old now, but I’ll tell you straight out that losing her still cuts through my soul.