‘Sweet Water’ stirs memories of a beloved ‘grandmother’

Published 9:38 pm Friday, April 8, 2011

I had three grandmothers. Two of them were white and one was black.

Mugi and Mommie were my grandmothers because they gave birth to Mama and Daddy. Dora was my grandmother by adoption. I adopted her.

She worked first for my great-grandmother and then my grandmother and later for Mama and Sis. So she was a part of my life for more years than I care to say.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

To me, Dora was bigger than life.

Once Mama asked Dora her dress size and she replied that she was little, “but I wears a large size.”

Dora looked like God had made her out of some really strong bones and stretched the skin over her and left out the stuffing. There was not an ounce of fat on her and she had the largest hands that I had ever seen – loving and caring hands.

In the afternoons, Dora would make my cousin, Jimmy, and me chocolate milk, fresh from the milk cow.

Chocolate syrup hadn’t been invented at the time – at least, not that we knew. Dora would mix the Hershey’s powder with a little milk and then put it in a half-gallon jug with more milk, sugar and ice cubes and shake it until it foamed and cooled. The foam would tickle my lips and that chocolate milk was the best thing that I had ever tasted. Except maybe when Dora would come to the back door and call us in to lick the bowl of whatever sweet thing she was making – cupcakes, cookies or a pie.

Dora taught me a lot of things that I would never have known otherwise. Things like, “If you’re gonna gnaw that pork chop bone, get behind the kitchen door.” And not to put anything larger than my elbow in my ear. And, “If you’re gonna open the door to let the breeze in, the flies are gonna come in, too.” I didn’t understand that until I was much older but I’ve found that to be one of the world’s great truths.

Dora had a funny way of saying things. She called a mimosa tree a “comotion” tree and the narrow, roll-out windows in my grandmother’s house, “jealousy” windows. And, once, telling us about the beautiful corsage that her grandson gave his prom date, she said he gave his girlfriend “the most beautiful massage.”

What a great storyteller Dora was. But, when she talked to you, she never looked at you. Always 90 degrees off, like she was talking to somebody else.

She loved to watch the soap operas, especially, “As the World Turns.” She wouldn’t miss it for anything.

“If the train to Glory came by while the world was turning, I’d ask if there’d be a later train,” she would laugh and say.

The pastor of a local church died and the sorrowful widow had one too many toddies to help her through the grieving.

Following the funeral, the bishop came looking for Sister So-and-So to express his condolences. Dora loved to tell how she stood with the widow propped on her hip “with her head going one way and her hat going the other.”

Probably the greatest distance Dora ever ventured from home was a trip to Birmingham for whatever reason. Her son was to pick her up at the bus station on her return trip. When the bus door opened, only one man got off. Her son got worried and so did all of us.

About five hours later, Dora arrived on a Greyhound bus that was headed north.

She had gone to sleep on the way from Birmingham, slept through the stop in Brundidge and finally woke up in Dothan. She didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket back home so the folks at the bus station took up a “collection” so she could come home. Oh, how she loved to tell that story.

The reason that I’ve been thinking about my third grandmother was a sign in a convenience store window. The sign read “Sweet Water.”

“Good heavens, I haven’t thought about sweet water in years,” I said to my son who wrinkled his forehead into a question mark. “Dora used to save empty syrup bottles and, in the summer, she would fill a bottle with cool water, put the cap back on and shake it until the syrup that had been left clinging to the sides turned loose and mixed with the water. Sweet water, she called it.

“Many a hot summer afternoon, I sat on Dora’s porch sipping on sweet water and listening to her talk 90 degrees. I can’t believe that now somebody is actually bottling sweet water.”

“Mama,” my son said, shaking his head. “Sweet Water is a brand name. It’s an ale. It’s not watered down syrup for children to drink.”

Well, it ought to be. Little children don’t know what they’re missing.