The Garden Hills neighborhood in my hometown often gets a bad rap. Granted, its best days are, so far, behind it, but I hold-out hope for its future. A visit to the neighborhood will, on a surface-level, note some areas of much-needed improvement, from the houses to the curbs. But, whenever I drive through there, I always think fondly of my Grandma Callie, and her time living there.
68-years-old by the time I was born, Callie Mae Hubbard Gladney was already an old woman by the time I remember her living on Hedge Rd. in Garden Hills in north Champaign. A bit hard-of-hearing, grandma was nevertheless still pretty spry. A former teacher from Mississippi, she spent many of her days reading from her bible, then putting it down and mouthing prayer for a few minutes, her eyes closed, her mind focused.
Callie Mae liked herself some chewing tobacco. That always made me a little uncomfortable, watching her bottom lip curl-up with chew, then discarding it in her spittoon next to the couch, though she defied medical odds and managed to live to a week shy of 101, despite her habit. Grandma Callie, sitting on her couch, with her bible and her spittoon: that's probably my strongest memory of her.
Of course, she was much more than that.
Mother of 12 children (my father among them), wife of Oscar (who preceded her in death by some 47 years), teacher, grandmother, great-grandmother, child of God, kind but firm and, being human, not without her faults. Still, she was my grandmother, and I loved her.
I loved Callie Mae's small, modest house in Garden Hills. Until the early 1980s she shared it with her mother, my great-grandmother, Mamma Ed, until she passed away in her early 90s. When mom, dad and I would visit, we'd almost always leave with some packaged meat from the massive freezer in her garage, and/or some canned vegetables from her garden, stored on shelves in her kitchen and garage.
There were the (frequent) family get-togethers at Callie's house, often loud and boisterous, with my aunts, uncles and cousins seeming to have a good time. Grandma's hearing didn't always catch every conversation, but when she did, she would typically either laugh, or stand up and pretend to smack someone for saying something out of line.
Sometimes we'd just hang out at grandma's house and watch TV. The shows I remember watching there were Dallas, Alice, Dynasty, Dukes of Hazzard and, on the occasions she watched me when I was sick, daytime soaps. If my attention drifted from the television set, I would take note of the items adorning her walls: the portrait of my uncle Marshall and aunt Lily, the wood clock made by one of my uncles, where each time was notated with the name of each of her twelve children, and the placard which read: 'May you be in heaven half-an-hour before the devil knows you're dead.'
All things must come to an end, and grandma's time in that house ended when someone lost control of their car one night and drove into the living room of her abode. It startled her, but it would take more than that to put an end to Callie Mae. She moved to a different house on Hedge Rd. It would be the location where I would visit with my dying father on several occasions, and it would be her last residence in Champaign, before she moved back to Mississippi to live out the rest of her days.
Why this post, and why now? Perhaps it's because, as I lay in bed last night trying to fall asleep, the stresses of the world burdening my mind, Grandma Callie and her (original) home on Hedge Rd. entered my thoughts, almost soothing in its arrival. I thought of the modest abode full of love, full of her, of the family that had visited her there, of the times I watched TV in her living room, and watched her pray on her couch.
I thought of how I can never go back to that house. It still exists, but she is no longer there. Time has moved on.