My grandmother, Addie Lee Peden Baird, stopped having birthdays at the age of forty-eight. It was her choice. Though she lived many more years, passing away just short of turning one hundred, she never added another year to her chronological calendar.
“I’m forty-eight,” she would chuckle as the years rolled by, each one adding a few additional wrinkles, more gray hair, sagging breasts, and crepe-like skin the color of pearls.
“Forty-eight is a good age,” she asserted. “It’s not old, but old enough to know better.”
It was the embracing of “forty-eight” that helped my grandmother stay young . . . and she did, almost to the end. She was never in a hospital until four days before she died. My mother is certain her heart failed because she was scared to death about being there. While that may be an exaggeration, my mother’s reasoning is not without merit, because a hospital stay took Addie away from the hearty context of her life, a life that never was easy, but as she believed, blessed.
Addie was strong physically, mentally, and spiritually. She had to be. Born the last of eleven children, she learned to stand up for herself among her siblings, some who were stern disciplinarians, and others who teased her relentlessly. She grew up on a country farm in the Bluegrass state, Kentucky. She graduated from high school, loved to read, and I am willing to bet harbored all the same dreams any young girl of her day did.
Eventually, she married and had three children, the first of whom died in infancy of hydrocephalus. Even as an adult woman, my grandmother’s eyes would brim with tears when she remembered “little Paul” and the agony he endured as a baby. My mother, Nola Jean, was Addie’s second child, and my Uncle Alton, her third.
As a young mother, she raised chickens and was a homemaker. At some point, the family moved to the city of Louisville, and then to Elizabethtown, around fifty miles to the South where she lived in a large, rambling home on the Dixie Highway. (It was 408 West Dixie Avenue, I think; I have no idea why I recall this detail.) From what I am told, her husband was less than ambitious so she opened her home to boarders whose stays varied in length, but who I am sure, appreciated her hospitality. In time, my grandfather, Gillum, died and Addie bought a small, brick house across the street from the Severns Valley Baptist Church. That location was perfect for her because her religion was, in many ways, a foundation for her existence. Her faith was unwavering.
Addie prayed aloud every morning before breakfast, loved to hum hymns, her favorite being How Great Thou Art
, and participated in countless church services and potluck dinners commonplace in the South. That aside, my grandmother was never “preachy”. Her beliefs were personal and private. She pushed nothing on anyone else. Instead, she led by example.
Thinking about Addie makes me smile. My older brother, Jay, latched onto her first name when only a toddler and began calling Addie “Addie” instead of the traditional Grandma or Nana. I followed suit. She was simply Addie to us for the rest of her life. I am lucky to have been named after her. We share the same middle name, Lee.
Addie could be feisty if something didn’t “sit well” with her, but she was tender and kind. She made the best custard pie in the county, loved puttering in her garden, was a fabulous cook, had the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen, and was an exquisite seamstress. She taught me to knit, crochet, and embroidery although I’m afraid I did not inherit her skill or patience for needlework. Addie wore thick nylons that she anchored above the knee with some kind of elastic band. They looked terribly uncomfortable. However, she never wore a bra in her life . . . ever because “those things are too confining”. I’m afraid her bosom was captured by the fate of gravity quite early on as a result. Still, she was proud, loving to dress up when an opportunity presented itself. Aside perhaps for a tiny bit of lipstick, Addie never wore make-up, but she adored plastering creams on her face and hands to make them soft. I can, to this day, recall the smooth, silky feeling of her cheeks. She had long, grey-streaked hair for much of her life. She swept it up, off the back of her neck, and rolled it into an elongated bun. From time to time, when I was a small girl, she allowed me to brush and comb her hair. I would braid it or put her long locks in “dog ears” or ponytails, complete with bows or artificial flowers. A quick look in the mirror always made her laugh. Tolerance obviously was one of her gifts!
What else do I recollect? She had a canary named Peachy who sang to her and gave her companionship when no one else was around. She collected S&H green stamps. (Does anyone remember those?) She hung her clothes on a clothesline to dry in the sun. She made her own jam, jelly, pickles, cornbread, and, oh my goodness, the best, most yummy, chicken dumplings ever.
My grandmother loved her family, but of all the grandchildren, I like to think she loved my brother and me the most. I never was in doubt of her affection although for most of my adult life I did not live close enough to her to share the feeling firsthand.
When Addie died, I was unable to attend her funeral in Kentucky. I was in California by then with a young family of my own, but I was there in spirit . . . and I cried buckets of tears. I must admit that Addie is still with me now. I think of her often, almost as a guardian angel who advises me when times are tough, and for that reason, I know her essence is still kicking around the universe. And that is perhaps why, when I sat down to “blog” today, Addie became my topic. She was a role model to me for many reasons, not the least of which was her determination to hold on to “forty-eight”, the exuberance of life, and not let go.
|My mother (Jean), Addie, my son (Alex) and me in the summer of 1974. We are on the steps of|
the Masonic Home in Louisville, Kentucky, the last place Addie lived.