The two subjects, as sometimes happens in life, collided in my brain and made a connection. Years ago with Miss Jenny, we were fortunate to take a trip to see her “Granny.” Thelma Hudson hailed from Fairhope, Alabama. She wasn’t really her grandmother, but Thelma, who resided in Gilroy with her pastor husband for many years before retiring to the south, took care of Miss Jenny as her “Granny Nanny” when she was a youngin’ and Miss Jenny’s parents were both hard at work supporting the family.
I had never met “Granny” but I heard a lot of stories, chatted with her on the phone over the years from time to time and came to realize that Miss Jenny’s compunction to overdramatize, known in the southern United States as, “Well, that might be a slight embellishment dear, but you know … ,” stemmed from “Granny’s” early influence.
One of Miss Jenny’s beloved grammar school teachers at San Ysidro Elementary School who recently passed away, Ruby Woodward, a demanding African-American woman who set a high educational bar, also hailed from the south and might have exacerbated Miss Jenny’s mostly delightful speech tendency.
“Oh, that was the best movie ever …,” is a phrase I’ve heard her exuberantly exclaim 40 or 50 times. (Ok, I confess, that’s an exaggeration, but hey one’s spouse does have an influencing effect after 18 years.)
Being a by-the-book-talking Irish-Italian, this tendency took a while to get used to, and still occasionally I have to pipe up and say, “Hang on a minute, that rainstorm was not a hurricane …” or “Her entire body was not covered in ‘Smores …”
But mostly now I just grin, listen and enjoy the story which is often accompanied by My Sweetie’s boisterous natural laugh and think to myself, “Geez, were there really 14 gazillion cherries on that one 80-foot-tall tree?”
After a while, as “Granny” got up in years, we decided that it was time to take a trip to see her. So we did. And we wove in a visit to New Orleans and Preservation Hall … but I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Granny” greeted me with the exuberance I had come to know and love through her telephone voice and letters. Her love and affection for Miss Jenny and anything associated with “her girl” clear as a mirror pond.
She and I had a few key things in common: Miss Jenny, a fondness for pie, pecan or key lime, and a soul-calming love of tending to the garden. Her screened Florida porch that looked over the lushly-planted back yard was cool, too, and provided a place to enjoy the steamy southern summer evenings without being bugged.
We helped her with some chores, took her to a nice meal at a restaurant overlooking a serene part of Mobile Bay and at some point during the weekend, “Granny” asked me to take a look at the screen door that connected the house to the porch that wasn’t working properly.
If My Sweetie were telling the story that’s probably how it would come out, “Well, you know Granny was a devout Christian, and her church was just up the road a bit, so the good Lord must have witnessed Mark with his tools fidgeting with that screen door – and I did see a bolt of lightning light up the garden … Next thing is, we heard that broken screen door flapping flawlessly like a Yellow Crowned Night Heron taking off from the water like it was playing a leading role in a Mobile Bay Audubon Society film. My word, it was amazing, so help me God …”
Well, truth be told, I got a few tools and, of course, I was hellbent on impressing “Granny” and, fortunately, the good Lord may indeed have intervened, and the screen door got fixed.
What’s ironic is that my handyman skills, admittedly limited by interest and effort, became the epitome of embellishment. From that day forward, I proudly wore “Granny’s” unwavering distinction. “Oh that Mark, he can fix anything … do you know my screen door didn’t work for 100 years, and he’s so handy, that man, he fixed it right up in a jiffy.”
So, every time I think of “Granny”, God rest her generous soul, I think about the screen door and the spark she lit inside my Miss Jenny, and I smile and I’m thankful.
And that brings me to Preservation Hall in New Orleans which we visited on that trip. We loved it. The memory of it makes me smile inside in an appreciative way, too. There’s a picture below, taken by local bon vivant Hank Miller, that captures the essence of the place. It’s a magical musical hole in the wall filled with a deep-rooted homespun tradition.
That’s how I think about Gilroy’s Garlic Festival. It’s magical in what it does for our community, rooted in volunteer goodness and it makes me smile, particularly when Miss Jenny and I spot “bad fashion” that immediately results in a laughing glance at one another and the inevitable tale later … “Did you see that outfit, her hair was even tie-dyed …”
Reach Editor Mark Derry at [email protected]