Putting the ‘grand’ in grandparents

I was blessed to know three of my four grandparents well.

Minnie Ruth Elrod, my mom’s mother, whom we called Maw Maw, was always a part of my life. We had frequent visits with her when we all lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She eventually followed us to Lake Wales, Fla., and moved in with my parents for the last 11 years of her life. She passed away just before her 95th birthday in 2003. My mom’s father, Arthur Lee Elrod, passed away when she was 17, so I never had the opportunity to know him.

Ernest and Addie Wallace were my dad’s parents, and I was their first grandchild. I saw them once or twice a year when we would trek from Texas to their home in Columbus, Ga., or vice versa. By all accounts they spoiled me with gifts and attention. I always felt close to them despite the miles that separated us. I was in my senior year of college in 1992 when my grandfather, whom I called Paw Paw, passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Granny, as I called her, lived two more years before succumbing to bone cancer. Because I lived in Macon, just a two hour drive from Columbus, I was able to visit a few times and have precious one-on-one conversations.

I have almost nothing but fond memories of Maw Maw, Granny, and Paw Paw. These are among the best:

Two portraits side-by-side of Lance Wallace's grandparents. The image on the left is of Ernest Wallace in a navy suit and striped necktie on the left and Addie Wallace in a rose-colored dress on the right. The image on the left is of Minnie Ruth Elrod in a green suit seated in a chair and wearing glasses.
Left, Ernest and Addie Wallace, my dad’s parents, and on the right is Minnie Ruth Elrod, my mother’s mother.

Maw Maw. Because her husband died so young, Maw Maw used her entrepreneurial spirit to support herself and her two daughters. She started and operated Elrod Florist in downtown Fort Worth, and I have many fond memories of visiting her shop. Any time I step into a florist today, the smell of fresh cut flowers takes me back to her shop. One of the grandest events of my childhood was Rodeo Day in Fort Worth. We would have a holiday from school and go downtown to Maw Maw’s shop to watch the rodeo parade from the elevated walkway. Though she was extremely busy, she always made time for us, usually letting us get an ice cream from the cafe next door.

We spent the night at Maw Maw’s house on Astor Street in Fort Worth on a Friday night some point before my youngest brother, Lyle, was born. It was just Lee and me, but we could be a handful. Maw Maw had no trouble handling us, however, and she was the kind of grandmother who didn’t mind telling her beloved little darlings to “shut up” if we were making too much racket. On that Friday night, she made her famous potato burgers, a recipe she perfected as a Girl Scout leader. She peeled and shredded potatoes, mixed them in with the ground beef, rounded them into patties and fried them in a skillet. They were served on a bun.

Her house held many objects to fascinate us, including a real cuckoo clock she purchased on a trip to Europe, a kiln for her ceramics, and a strange rubber toy that when squeezed, its eyes, nose and mouth would bug out.

Lee and I slept in her den with the TV. She let us watch our favorite Friday night programs, “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The Incredible Hulk.”

Spending the night away from home, even if it was just on the other side of town, was a treat, and Maw Maw’s potato burgers were made with love.

Granny. My dad’s mother had a gift for telling stories, and on our visits to her home in Columbus, I remember her sitting in her chair, playing solitaire on a TV tray, watching the news and telling us story after story. I’m sure it was her laugh and zest for life that initially attracted my grandfather, and those same qualities made her a delight to listen to, even when I was too young to really understand the point of her stories.

Her go to expressions were “tickled” to describe someone who started laughing, “pulling your leg” to describe someone playing a joke on you, and “and uh” as an almost melodic linking phrase to let you know the story was still going on. I knew when the story was over when she burst into laughter or narrowed her eyes and pointed her finger.

During one of my last visits with her, I brought her a photo album of pictures I had taken in and around Macon based on the settings of stories I had heard her tell. She was from McDonough, north of Macon, and had met my grandfather while he was in the Army stationed at Camp Wheeler just east of Macon. Their first apartment was in Macon, and my father was born there. It was a moving and powerful experience to sit with her, though wracked with pain, as she re-lived her courtship and early days of her marriage. We connected in a way few people have a chance to with their grandparents — as adults. We both started our adult lives in Macon, and we could relate to one another’s experience through a common location.

Paw Paw. I admired my grandfather greatly. Now that I’m over 50, I admire even more that he and Granny took my brother, Lee, and me to Walt Disney World around 1980 while they were in their late 60s. My mom worked for American Airlines at the time and was able to get us airplane tickets to fly to Orlando. Paw Paw and Granny drove their golden brown Cadillac down from Columbus and met us there. We stayed at a hotel with a pool, and after a night, we all went to the Magic Kingdom for the first time.

It was no doubt hot and crowded, but Paw Paw endured it all, smiling at our joy and amazement. The moment from that day that is seared into my memory happened on the first attraction we rode, the Star Jets. Located in the Tomorrowland section of the park, these rockets were white and black with red nose cones, painted to resemble Apollo-era ships. Riders could pull the throttle back to make their individual rocket move up and down as it circled a central replica of a Saturn V rocket.

The line formed under the base of the rocket platform. There were only 12 rockets holding two people at a time, which restricted the number of riders to 24 every two to three minutes. Riders were taken from the line beneath the platform to the platform itself by an elevator. If I had to guess today, I’d say we probably waited 45 minutes to ride, but as a small child, it seemed like an eternity. Paw Paw stood with us in the line, waiting the whole time without complaint, though he would not be riding. And when our rockets “landed” and we raced down the ramp to breathlessly tell of our experience, he was the first to greet us with a laugh at our excitement.

Paw Paw and I had many more memories together before he passed away in the winter of 1992, but that day at the Magic Kingdom is one I treasure.

One thought on “Putting the ‘grand’ in grandparents

  1. I love your writing Lance. After my father died in 1947 we lived with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather became my father figure and for that I am very grateful. Because I lived with my grandparents I learned so much about extended family that I would have never known otherwise.

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