What my grandparents were good at

Jason A. Smith


Memories are funny things sometimes.

They can make you sad, or make you long for a time when life wasn’t so hard. If you’re lucky, memories of certain people can also put a smile on your face that no amount of time can erase.

I’m fortunate to have a lot of memories that fall into the latter category, thanks to at least two special people in my life – my maternal grandparents, John and Olivia Mae Duffey. So many memories from my childhood are attached to them in some way, and have helped to shape the person I am now.

Though it’s been nearly 15 years since I lost them, Mamma and PawPaw still manage to make me smile whenever they cross my mind – which seems to be a lot more lately. As I think about Grandparents Day this month, it seems fitting to tell readers a little bit about them.

When I was growing up, I always loved whenever my grandparents would come visit us at our house in Conyers, mostly because of the close bond Mamma and I shared. For whatever reason, I was her favorite grandchild, and she wasn’t shy about spoiling me.

For instance, I’d get presents on my brother’s birthday, which didn’t make him happy. I can’t blame him, either. I didn’t do anything to make Mamma spoil me, but I didn’t do a whole lot to discourage it, either.

My grandparents were two of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Whenever I visited them at their house in Decatur with my parents, my brother and sister, we could always count on two things: Mamma and PawPaw would spend half the night bickering about something in hilarious fashion, and the other half would be consumed by PawPaw’s reflections on life, complete with salty language.

Yes, it’s true. PawPaw had a potty-mouth. Even on the nights we came straight to their house after church for a visit, we knew the evening would be positively bleep-worthy.

But, he also had the rare ability to turn a phrase with that salty language in a way that made us laugh until our sides hurt. Looking back, we kids probably shouldn’t have been hearing such words at all, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Once he got started, there was no stopping him, and we were only too happy to be along for the ride.

It usually didn’t take much for Mamma and PawPaw to start their bickering. It could be something as simple as her wanting to watch “Wheel of Fortune” while he – an avid baseball player in his day -- wanted to check on the score of the Braves game (keep in mind that much of this was during the Braves’ lean years in the 1980s, so PawPaw was in a bad mood, anyway).

There were occasions, of course, when Mamma gave as good as she got from PawPaw, in terms of their bickering. One such story sticks out in my mind to the point that my wife, who never met my grandparents, is acutely familiar with it.

Mamma and PawPaw had been sitting in the den at the back of their house one day, having just finished arguing about something. This wasn’t one of their fun, entertaining bickering spats, either. This was a full-fledged argument. When they were done, Mamma – bad knees and all – hobbled her way into the kitchen to satisfy her craving for ice cream.

Maybe she felt bad about arguing with PawPaw. Maybe she just didn’t want to be rude. Whatever the reason, Mamma appeared to be offering an olive branch of sorts.

“You want some ice cream?” she called out to him.

“Is it chocolate?” he replied, somewhat timidly.

“It’s brown!” she shot back in sarcastic annoyance. “You want some BROWN ICE CREAM?”

No matter how much times goes by, that story makes me laugh.

Yes, my grandparents were good at bickering, and they were good at making us laugh. But they were good at something else, too, that I don’t want to get lost in this column.

They were good at staying together.

Mamma and PawPaw were together from the time they started dating at 16 until her passing at age 87. Even when she was near death and could no longer communicate with him, he’d drive to the nursing home and be with her all day, every day. She passed away in November of 2000, and he was gone the following February.

They were married 62 years, together for 71, and died three months apart. He was her world, and she was his. They didn’t live a life of luxury, by any means, but as long as they had each other, they had all they needed.

As I think about them and the love they shared, I’m proud to call them my grandparents. I can only hope that when my grandchildren see the way my wife and I love each other, they’ll be able to say the same thing.

Jason has worked in newspapers since 2005, spending the majority of that time in Henry County. He lives in Covington with his wife and daughter.