My 'sweet thang' Grandmother Howell passed away peacefully in her sleep last night. She wasn't sick. She lived at home alone still. She lived in the house where she was born and grew up with her 11 brothers and sisters. She lived in the house where she raised her 5 children, mostly alone, as my granddaddy was killed in a car accident when the kids were ages 9, 7, 5, 2, and infant. She was a tough old broad, a devoted Catholic, a helper in the community, a tomato grower, a dumpster diver, a DIYer, a great friend to many, and the ORIGINAL 'queen of green' in the environmentally friendly use of ziplocs and cool whip containers. I recently took a picture of one of her ziplocs filled with flour dated 2006. That's some serious reuse.
Her parents immigrated from Ireland with her 1 older sister to Greenville, Alabama in the 19 teens??? The other 10 were Bama born and bred. All the boys were Auburn engineers and the girls were devoted working mothers. Grandmother was very proud of her Irish tinkerer roots and could fix anything. I can still see her one month ago arguing with her daughters about how she "fixed" the electric knife to cut the turkey. She was so proud of herself for getting it to work and could not understand why no one wanted to use it on the food with WD40 on it. She averted a near nuptial mess by fixing my melted wedding dress the night before the big day. I am still not sure how she did it. Probably WD40 and duct tape. It looked beautiful though.
She didn't have a jealous bone in her body. Even when I called her "other grandmother" after spending too much time with my "other grandmother", she didn't mind and thought it was funny.
My grandmother was a kind soul. She was a baby whisperer. She spoke the language. I'll always remember nursing Salter at the Botanical Gardens while Grandmother and mom tried to protect my modesty. I really didn't mind . Grandmother never saw a v neck or strapless top she didn't want to put a dickie on. That's a piece of cloth to keep you modest and better covered. Grandmother could tell you every detail about each pregnancy she had. "Huhn nay".....how much weight have you gained? OOO that's too much for now." Or, "you lost weight, you'll go into labor in 24 hours". "Oh Honaaaay". She was tickled that I wanted to wear her wedding dress for my and Tim's 10 year vow renewal. Unfortunately, I do not have a size 00 waist. We tried though.
Florence Howell was quite the interior designer too if you ask me. She was Sister Parish meets Kelly Wearstler. Her sense of patterns, prints, and colors were quite cool. She did an entire room in the same flowery wallpaper, curtains, and bedding 50 years ago. I asked if she still had some of the wallpaper by chance and you know she did. She went straight to it and grabbed a couple rolls of vintage wallpaper for me.
Grandmother loved giving clothes to us that had gone out of style and found their way to her house. She was sure they were back in style now. Some things she was right on about. I can see the alligator heals she gave me now. We were the only ones with the the same tiny foot so I got all her chic, old school heels. As I sat and stared at them today, I really wished I could have one more conversation with her about where those shoes came from. I know she's told me and now I don't remember. We always long for one more talk, one more conversation we meant to have. My last conversation with her was a couple of days ago. I told her all the things I was working on and she said, "Oh huhnay, you are making me tired just thinking about it."
Grandmother never missed mass. She was my favorite singing partner. You know Catholics cannot sing, but some don't know that. Most whisper the songs if you've noticed. Maybe you just thought they were out of breath from kneeling and standing so much, but no. However, Grandmother Howell would wail and that meant you could wail beside her and essentially drown one another out which sounds pretty good.
Another thing Grandmother never missed was Sunday lunch. She has cooked and hosted Sunday lunch at her house for her 5 children and their families for, AT LEAST, the last 40 years that I can attest to. She hosted her 11 brothers and sisters and their families every year on Labor Day weekend. She was our matriarch. Her family meant everything to her and she did everything she could for them. Even when her back pain was too much, she always pushed through and got it done.
I was so thrilled to name my daughter after this hard working, good woman. Ilsa Florence has a big name to live up to and I will do my best to instill the values I learned from Grandmother in her. I love you Grandmother. You were my friend. Always just a phone call away to someone who had my back and was wondering how I was. I'll miss that. I'll miss Greenville without you. It will never be the same.
Ilsa Florence sleeping peacefully on her great grandmother's bed. Sweet dreams Grandmother. Until we meet again.