Monday, July 9, 2012

Stranger to Blue Water / Grandma Doesn't Wear Underpants

This one's for my grandma, Etta "Deloris" Whitlatch Hoyt, who passed away on Friday, June 29, 2012. She is survived by my grandfather, Marvin Junior Hoyt ("Pap"), in whose loving arms she died.

Deloris and Marvin met when she was 15 and he was 16. They married at 16/17 and had their first of four children, my mother, at 17/18. They would have been married for 66 years next month. (You know what they say about the secret to a long marriage? Don't get a divorce.)

Perhaps most people think of warm, soft grandmas who smell of cookies. That is my mom. But my grandma was "ornery." She loved roller coasters. Hated dogs but fed ours under the table just to drive my mother crazy. A diehard Pepsi fan, she drove across the Ohio border to buy her "pop" because she insisted it was fizzier there, and she told several of her offspring that she wanted a Pepsi can set on her grave. When I was ten she told me that there was no need for women to wear underwear to bed (because they'd just come right off anyway). An elder's wife in the fundamentalist Church of Christ sect, she sat silently in the back pew during worship and passed out Teaberry and Cloves gum to her grateful, naughty grandchildren.

Up until her sudden passing, she walked 5-10 "mile" a day, rain or shine, and she didn't want company. (Though I often forced my way in.) She was a private woman. She did not enjoy crowds or meeting new people. A true mountaineer, she gardened and baked while my grandfather hunted. (I once saw him shoot at a meddling groundhog out the window of his bedroom.) She canned more quarts of tomatoes, green beans, and garlic dill pickles than she and my grandfather could eat in a year. They raised pigs. When I was very little, I asked her where the pigs had gone and she pointed to my ham sandwich and said "You're eating them." (Horrified.)

Every year my family would drive seven hours to Moundsville, West Virginia, to visit. It was almost heavenly to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River while singing along to "Take Me Home, Country Roads." There's one line that strikes me every time I hear it:

All my memories gathered 'round her
Miner's lady, stranger to blue water

Up until the age of about 60, my grandmother was a stranger to blue water. It was a trip to Virginia to visit my family that first brought Deloris to the big blue ocean, and she was smitten. It was the off-season, in October, when we walked along the beach and she helped me sneakily take off my shoes and socks to wade in the chilling water, against my mother's wishes.

I have some regrets. I never got to can with her. She kept telling me to hurry up and have babies so she could meet them. I don't know how to make her killer Amazin' Raisin Cake. I was racing along the highway to see her when she passed, so I didn't get to say good-bye. She and my Pap didn't come to my wedding, and I'm pretty sure it's because we had dancing and alcohol at the reception (though it wasn't compulsory!). I don't even know if she ever watched the fantastic wedding video Alex made to commemorate the occasion. I had also wanted her to come see New York City but she told me I was crazy, though I know she lay in bed at night listening to the news from NYC. She'd probably have hated the crowds. But it was always impossible to know with Grandma. She could have loved the Subway. She was unpredictable. Mercurial even.

For example, she did not want singing or music of any kind at her funeral. It was a closed casket, per her request, but I privately sang a few lines at her coffin anyway, in her own ornery spirit. And now, to really get her goat, I've recorded this old Church of Christ hymn in her honor. It was written in 1945, the year Deloris and Marvin met.

It's me x 3 + ukulele. Stick around for the second chorus, although Grandma probably wouldn't have.

If We Never Meet Again (by Albert E. Brumley)


  1. Sarah, I loved reading your post about your Grandma and getting to form a picture of her in my mind. The recording is so beautiful, full and slow.--my aunt just passed away two days ago--after blossoming in her sixties--telling her drunken sons to get themselves to work on their own so she could finally get her BA and then her masters in counseling. After a year or two working as a counselor she lost all control of her nervous system due to a small spot of lung cancer. After two years of so much suffering she died. It is hard to let these special people in our lives go, but there is also no way around it! Thank you for your song. I will gladly can with you in your Grandma's memory--but I don't know the cake recipe...

  2. What a beautiful tribute to her. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you Sarah. That was a beautiful tribute to Mom. She made it a tradition that every Grandchild, when old enough, tasted Pepsi and her pickles. Those canned tomatoes that I give you each year is her recipe. The garlic/dill pickles also what she taught me. Come to Wild, Wonderful WV at harvest time and I will gladly teach you how to can them. But you have to agree to wear a red bandana as we can. Just like your Grandma did. I have her recipe for Amazin' Raisin Cake. That, I also will gladly share. ( even the secret ingredient) :) I told Mom many times that she reminded me of her Grandma Riggs who also was a very feisty woman ( Your Great-Great Grandmother) By the way, don't forget that you are named after that Grandma, Elizabeth Riggs and you have definitely inherited that feisty trait. Don't ever lose it! I love you Lizzie. Mom

  4. Loved what you wrote and the song (so beautiful). Your post reminded me a lot of my relationship with my grandfather. I hope you and your family had a good time celebrating your grandma.