Grandma Norman

She Walked in Beauty

I would like to introduce you to my Carolina Grandma – my Dad’s Mom. I briefly mentioned her in my intro post for my Old Journals.

Those who’ve followed my blog for the last few months will of course be familiar with my Mom’s family – Grandma D, Great Aunt Helen and the bunch.

Let’s just say that my Dad’s family is a whole other kettle of fish.

Governor's Mansion NC
I love this place in all its spooky old plantation home grandeur – Pitt County – Bracebridge Hall, also referred to locally as the “Governors mansion”, was built by Jonas Carr and later the home of North Carolina Governor Elias Carr. [Wikipedia]

Dad’s from North Carolina, from a little town about 20 minutes outside Greenville in the Eastern part of North Carolina – Tobacco country is how I think of it. My Grandma was born and raised on a Tobacco farm. That entire side of the family has roots going back more than 400 years; as far as I can trace as far back as the 1680s in Jamestown, Virginia. I have a GGGGreat Grandfather who died in the Civil War, and two of his brothers were captured at Gettysburg. They are an old old family and I’m just beginning to untangle them and figure out where they came from. The whole bunch, all the various lines of my Dad’s family, go back from before there even was an united states of America. One ancestor was even Native American, and one legend says one of our lines is a descendant of Black Beard. {aharrr billy, ya ever been ta’ sea?}

My Dad was the middle child of three. When Dad was 9 years old, he was sent to live with his GrandmaM, his Mom’s Mom, who ran a tobacco farm. He was sent there for a couple of reasons, – the first of which is why I believe we may just be related to Black Beard –  my Dad was a rude little smarty-pants brat when he was young – and I might add into his teens, and then on thru his twenties until he came up to Canada and my Mom got a hold of him.

The other reason Dad went to Great Grandma’s was because his Mom was not mentally well. Having a child like my Dad must have been a nightmare for her.

Grandma N began having panic attacks, from what I recall, in her teens. She was always considered “nervous” though – ever since she was a young girl and one of the farm hands broke into their house and came into her room. For the last 35 years or so of her life she became Agoraphobic as well as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment as being difficult to escape or get help. These situations include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, as well as uncontrollable social situations such as may be met in shopping malls, airports, and on bridges. [Wikipedia]

Grandma Norman

In the fall of 1999 there was a huge flood in many regions of Eastern North Carolina and their whole town was part of the areas that were evacuated along the Tar River. Who do you think made the front page of the paper? Yes, my Grandma N. There she is in this gymnasium, completely out of her element, and what is she doing? Is she huddled in a corner in fear? Nope. Why of course she is comforting everyone else, watching the little ones while the parents get a few minutes of peace from the horror of the situation. There were alot of deaths in the area – the paper reported 13 dead and many missing. It must have been awful for her, but she coped and her beautiful spirit shone for others to see – and of course, as you can see, she wrote about it.

You see, to me, my Grandma N was not just some crazy lady we went to visit every few years. To me growing up she was different from my other Grandma, yes, but to a kid mental illness doesn’t mean anything. For me, she was just Grandma N and that’s how I still see her today.

She died in 2008 at age 88 years old, in her own home (of course) in her daughter’s arms. She was, her entire life, “a heart whose love is innocent!”

I recall her sitting for hours and hours writing and drawing – remembrances of her youth, meeting Grandpa and dating, and all the stories that a person collects over the years, she wrote down. She wrote about the people she knew, her family, her friends (living and gone). I guess I came by that trait, honestly.

I really never saw her as “different” in any bad way. She was terrified of spiders, of course so is my sister. Ok, and yes, she did only eat fried chicken from this ONE particular place for close to 25 years or more. She never ate her own cooking. Never used or touched anything without a paper towel. Her skin was yellow, and she had a goitre on her neck (you would too if you only ate fried chicken for 35 years). Which, again, meant nothing to me when I was a kid; who wouldn’t want to eat fried chicken for every meal when you’re a kid? I just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t. The goitre for some reason was invisible to me.

It didn’t mean anything to me that I never saw her outside passed the stoop, and that she never went anywhere with us. I think back and I don’t even remember thinking it was odd that everything around her (couch, pillow, floor etc) was covered in paper towel. No, I remember we used to sit and watch The Young and the Restless together when Dad and Mom went visiting without us in the afternoon. I remember her wonderful poems and her drawings of where she grew up. I remember her voice and the way she would say my name – Powla.

Furthermore, I also remember the year Mom pointed out that 3 carpets down, underneath the one they had on top, was the carpet my sister had first crawled on 25 years before. I mean, her very first time she actually got up the motivation to MOVE her fat little baby body, was in North Carolina at Christmas at Grandma & Grandpa’s – the little stinker – around 1973 or so. Mom had just finished saying to Grandma & Grandpa that Mud-Duck (Grandpa N’s nickname for her) was not crawling yet, and as the words are leaving her mouth, there’s the little chub-muffin bootin it across the carpet. I realize now that carpet must have meant the world to her, she saw us so little.

When I was older and married (the mid 90’s), my ex and I went down to North Carolina with my parents so R could meet my family down south. I remember the conversations at the time with him, trying to prepare him for my Dad’s family. I mean, Grandma N was not the only character he would encounter during our sojourn in the land of my birth – but she did require alittle bit of prep beforehand.

I am surrounded by mental illness, and have been my whole life. Funny though, I just never thought of Grandma as mentally ill – she was a beautiful wounded soul to me, with words and stories to share – to me, she will always walk in beauty.

8 thoughts on “She Walked in Beauty

  1. What a great post. It’s fantastic that your grandmother left writings and thoughts behind for her children and grandchildren to have. That stuff means a lot to a person after their loved one has passed on. She sounds like she was really an incredible person.


    1. Thank you.
      At Christmas we all sat down and showed my nieces their Great Grandma’s poems and drawings…the oldest said “wow, she was really good Mommy”. Maybe she is inspiring a whole new generation.

      And thanx for dropping by :)


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