Many different people knew my grandmother in different ways. An ambassador, a philanthropist, a socialite, a political activist. She didn’t identify with any of those things. To me, she was just one thing: a grandmother.
She did the things that grandmothers do. If I were coming for dinner, she would fuss about the food. She would think a lot about the flowers beside the bed in my guest room. She’d greet me at the door. She’d walk me out and look down the driveway as I left. I felt that we had a special bond and that she loved me.
One story stands out in particular.
On the morning my first child was born, we were nervous going to the hospital, and I didn’t want lots of people in the waiting room. So I didn’t offer the family many details, just that we’d call when it was all done.
The baby came. We got cleaned up and went to our hospital room at Piedmont to settle in. We’d been there for barely five minutes when the phone rang, and I answered. “Hello, Alex,” said her secretary, Becky. “Your grandmother would like to know if she can see the baby now.” That didn’t take long.
Of course, I said yes and gave her the room number. Within five minutes there was a knock on the door, and there she was — the first one to see our baby boy — as if she’d been waiting in the driveway. She did the same thing when our daughter came. She was excited to hold a baby — as a grandmother would be.
She was also very cool. People watched her because she had a calm and elegant way about her. Everywhere she went, things seemed to be nice and elegant but strangely simple. If a shirt or sweater was untucked or out of place, it looked like it was supposed to be. She just did things right, and things around her danced to her tune.
She was also very strong. She spent a lot of time outdoors, working in her gardens. When I would visit her in the south of France near St. Étienne du Grès, I would attempt to bond by offering to “plant” with her. We would get a mat and a trowel and go out into the garden and plant bulbs and annuals and all sorts of things.
I consider myself pretty fit. But after an hour I would be covered in sweat and fully exhausted from holding myself in awkward positions, swatting bugs, digging holes, moving dirt. Ten feet away, she was not exhausted. She would look cool as a cucumber, and she’d do it for hours on end. Tough and strong to the core.
I would tell her how tough she was. I would tell her that she was very influential to many people. I would tell her that people thought she was amazing. “Really?” she would ask. “Who?” Everyone, I would say. She would just shrug and look quizzical like she didn’t think she was anything special. She really thought she was just a plain girl from Ohio.
Those who knew her knew a strong and sophisticated person. A woman of great taste and respect. She was a great lady of the South. Her strongest memory was of coming to Atlanta to see the world premiere of “Gone With the Wind” in 1939. After that she never left — until now.
She is with her little dogs — dozens of whom went before her and have been waiting a long time. They are all running around as she works her way through the most magnificent garden in heaven. Things up there just got a little more beautiful.
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