Born on 9 Jul 1907, in Pulaski County, AR to Victor Claude and Hattie Belle (Chapin) Balding, the third of seven children, she lived in Little Rock all her life. She died here on 18 Jan 1998, and refused to go until her last grandchild arrived by plane from New York.
She was my maternal grandmother.
Grandma Dee, we called her.
She loved making things with her hands. She began to sew as a young girl, and added gardening to her crafting. She had a green thumb that just didn't quit, although as she aged and hired a gardener to do the heavy lifting, she had to content herself with following him around, and in later years, sitting on the terrace or a chair in the front driveway, giving instruction in the way only she could.
Grandma married Jo Duffie Williams on Halloween in 1926. They eloped.
That's why it was so funny to find this among her papers after her death. It's the *official* Marriage Service of the Presbyterian Church.
Look closely. They eloped.
That's why Rev Hay Watson Smith penned the word not
into the text...were not united by me in the bonds of marriage...
I had to laugh.
That juxtaposition of what you were supposed to do as opposed to what you wanted to do was so like her, and made her so unique.
Grandma was a young bride during the Great Depression. Those years shaped her financial world view for the rest of her life. She was an economist in every sense of the word. But when she cut loose with some money, she bought quality.
She and my grandfather lived in a small rental home not far from her parents while they saved money to build their home in central Little Rock. They moved into it in 1949, when my mother, their youngest child, was 12.
They built it for cash. It never had a mortgage on it as long as my grandmother lived there. When my grandfather died, he left her financially secure, and she enlisted the help of her banker to stay that way.
When I was grown, and moved back to Arkansas, I'd go to see her.
Arkansas summers can be brutal. Grandma would rise in the morning, get her bath and dress and go downstairs where she stayed for the rest of the day, with the windows open. She rarely ran the air conditioning until the summer drought crashed into the brutal and unrelenting heat of August. She kept the windows open and fans going.
I teased her about that - she could well afford to run her AC. "How do you think," she would ask me indignantly, "that we made it through the Great Depression?"
She said the same thing about the paper towels. I'd go into the kitchen and see a paper towel spread out to dry on the counter next to the sink. When I reminded her paper towels were about 79 cents a roll, she'd roll her eyes and tell me there was nothing wrong with that one, she had dried her hands on it. It wasn't soiled, it was damp.
It was perfectly suitable for continued use.
Grandma had more than her fair share of health problems all her life. She had tuberculosis when my mother was about 4 years old, and spent time in the TB sanitorium at Booneville in Logan County. Once she told me the smell of cooked cabbage reminded her of Booneville for the rest of her life.
Later, she had a thyroidectomy. As was the custom in the 1950s and 60s, she had a complete hysterectomy.
It wasn't until after my grandfather died in 1970 that she began to have heart problems. Before she died, she had two major heart surgeries - by-passes each time.
Those took a lot out of her, but I never heard her complain about them, or the radical mastectomies she had exactly one year apart when she was in her 70s.
She even managed to joke about that. She called herself the titless wonder.
One Saturday morning, I was putzing around the cottage when she called.Are you doing anything special today?
Not particularly, why? Do you need me to take you somewhere?Well, yes. I'd like to go to Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions.
Now, I was intrigued. What did my 87 year-old grandmother need from a lingerie shop?
Her breast prostheses were heavy and hot. But more than that, these are 20 year old titties, they are too perky, and they look ridiculous on an 80 year old body. I need something with some sag in it.
The socks she had been rolling up to put in her bra when she went out in public weren't cutting it, and the Barbara Graves saleswoman said she could fix her right up.
So off we went. After we purchased her new titties, we went to her favorite place for lunch.
Wendy's. She always had the same thing, with a Frosty for dessert.
And then surreptiously raked all the unused condiment packets off the table into her purse before we left.How do you think we made it through the Great Depression?
After she died, my sisters, cousins and I gathered at her home to divide the household furnishings and personal contents not covered by her will, and pack the house up for sale.
We divided up the rooms and got to work.
I had her bedroom, one of three on the second floor. We had devised a loose system of organization, and it was working well for me until I opened the bottom drawer of one of her bureaus.
Stacked neatly inside were probably at least a dozen Russell Stover candy boxes. At first, I thought they were probably empties she couldn't bear to part with (remember the Great Depression...), but when I picked a couple of them up, they were heavy.
Holy shit, I thought...how much chocolate could one old woman eat? I took the top off.
And discovered her music cassette tapes. Each box contained a different genre of music.
All these years, we had wracked our brains on her birthday and Christmas, trying to figure out what to get the woman who had everything.
And she was storing her music tapes in Russell Stover candy boxes.
One category of "things" that started stacking up real fast in those three days was papers. All kinds of papers. We designated a place in the den to locate those. Stuff like battered shoeboxes and dog-eared, coffee stained manila envelopes full of papers, some handwritten and some typed on what you can tell was one of the original manual typewriters. Loose photos, wedding invitations, baptismal announcements, and obituaries and funeral notices. Newspaper articles, touting the feats and accomplishments of various ones of my forebears. None with the name of the newspaper or the date, though - we were not so famous as to rate headlines where that information might have survived the shears.
Other than for historic purposes, we collectively did not figure anyone would have interest in the warranty and operating instructions for the first electric percolator Papa bought for Grandma, and which had long since bit the dust.
It was easy to cull through all that - but not quick. At times, there'd be four or five of us, sitting cross legged on the floor in the den, looking through all that and we would find ourselves reading those instructions - out loud, to each other.
And at the end, we consolidated quite a bit of it.
I don't remember who first asked, "So what are we going to do with this stuff?"
All heads swiveled in my direction.
I adopted my best rendition of the left-eyebrow-arched-oh-no-you-don't look, and said, "I don't think so."
The cottage has the least amount of space of any of our dwellings. And I am not the oldest grandchild, I am third. Why me?
The out of state cousins immediately began to talk about shipping costs. They had all flown in for the funeral and the week after, and had no way to wag packing boxes back with them on the plane(s) - at least not without considerable expense.
Everyone turned and looked at me.
So I got all of that - and the family photo album and dictionary.
Yeah, a family dictionary. (We couldn't find a family Bible, but it didn't tear any of us up.) But we had a family dictionary - a Webster's unabridged with a ribbon marker from decades ago that sat on a little lectern in the den. Papa kept it there along with a little magnifying glass. A kid had to stand on a stool so Papa could show her the dictionary.
And there was a lot of family information in all those papers.
And so began my journey into my family's past.
I believe Grandma would approve.
Doris B Williams in her garden, 1972
See you on the other side, Grandma.