verna

by Traci Barr

My grandmother, Verna,
was a true Southern belle,
worried what the neighbors would think,
exquisitely beautiful,
delicate, fragile, willful, vain.
 
My Lord, she had cotillions and corsages,
the vapors, gentleman callers,
the whole damn archetypal nine yards.
 
I imagine she bought her groceries
at the local Piggly Wiggly.
There wasn’t a Whole Foods to shop in –
not back then.
 
When I was little,
I called her long distance every Sunday,
just to hear her sweet Southern drawl.
I had a long list of favorite words
that I would ask her to repeat.
And then I, a budding cook, would beg her to tell me,
for probably the hundredth time,
the story of how hushpuppies got their name.
“Hush, puppy,” she would say, over and over again,
as she described how those little balls of fried cornmeal
were tossed to quell the yapping of hungry Confederate dogs.
 
Ever the paragon of Southern manners,
she always patiently obliged me.
 
Grandma often drank too much
and during the summertime,
when I would visit her in Kentucky,
a universe away from my home at the Jersey shore,
she would creep into the guest room at night where I slept,
wake me and tell me
I was the most beautiful little girl
in the whole wide world,
stroking my hair and slurring her words.
 
Of course,
because she was drunk,
and believing I was, in fact, the ugliest little girl
in the whole wide world,
I did not buy it for a single minute –
the evidence was so distinctly in my favor.
 
Grandma was very radiant and a touch crazy
and her vanity eventually got the best of her.
She faded and slipped further and further away,
refusing to allow even me, her favorite, to see her
when she became completely disfigured by illness.
But in my mind she remained
a true Southern belle to the very end.
 

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