Reflections on the 1950s and ‘60s domestic life of Grandmother Browne

My Grandmother Browne, my father’s mother, never appeared in her nightgown. Every morning, she stepped from her bedroom fully dressed wearing a shirtwaist dress; cardigan if the weather was chilly, and on her legs, nylon stockings held up with rolled garters, and shod with her signature low-heel, t-strap broghan style shoes which were generally brown or black or for Sunday more colorful. She wore bone colored ones in the summer. 

Grandmother was petite…what today would certainly be a size 2. Her feet were very small, probably a size 4 quad (for you who have never purchased shoes this way, it meant 4 AAAA, which was a very narrow foot). She walked with a mincing step, causing her to slightly twist from the waist as she walked, and which appeared as a slightly affected way of moving. As she got older, she grew lots of hairs on her chin – which she shaved. She had a 5:00 shadow. She smelled of cherries and almonds from her Jergens hand cream and her face was powdered with Pond’s loose powder as she sat at her vanity, a white painted table with tripartite, articulated mirrors and a dresser scarf protecting the surface. Her vanity was part of a set of bedroom furniture with an armoire, and a double bed that had a headboard and footboard which angled around the mattress. For convenience, she kept a lidded, pale yellow, green rimmed, enameled pot under her bed – so she did not leave her bedroom to relieve herself at night. The house’s single bathroom was at the back of the house.

She was something of a prissy woman, not vain, but with decidedly precise manners and a waved coiffure, reminiscent of her youth in the early 1920s. She was one of 3 sisters. Her name was Ila Irene – and was called Irene – her sisters were Maude and Helen, all names of the era – classics. Grandmother Browne was raised by her mother and father, who was a local Magistrate and store owner, in Glendale, South Carolina. It was a mill town. My mother always said my grandmother had “airs”. Grandmother’s family were financially better off than most in their town, and she went to Lander College when it was still an all girls college. She studied French. Her parents felt she married “beneath her”.

She met my Grandfather Sidi at a Billy Sunday tent revival meeting – and all their lives they were fairly ardent in their church attendance, mostly at Triune Methodist Church, until the Methodist Church integrated and then she and my grandfather removed themselves to a branch of the Presbyterian Church that did not have integrated congregations. They were very racist.

Granddaddy Browne was 6’ 4” tall, muscular, and towered over Irene. He was a diesel bus mechanic. And possessed of a terrible temper. He loved Wagner. Particularly Tannhauser. He worked at night at the Duke Power public bus barn, and his large, rough hands, embedded with grease and grime, reflected his work on motors. How he and Irene were a match was always a mystery, but he treated her with kid gloves. She was indulged. She never had a washing machine:  Their clothes, linens and all items except underwear, were sent out to the laundry. Grandmother did the unmentionables “on her hands” in the kitchen sink, hanging them to dry on the back porch. She didn’t drive. On Thursdays, he drove her to “The Dixie” for their weekly grocery shopping and he pushed the “buggy” for her. As they got older, on Sundays, they went to the “Cafeteria” for dinner, the midday meal.

Every morning, Grandmother walked into her kitchen in her newly donned, crisp dress, to cook either eggs and bacon or oatmeal. Her small kitchen table was set the night before with Anchor Hocking Jadeite plates and coffee cups turned upside down. Juice glasses were a floral pattern Anchor Hocking pressed, green glass which were also turned upside down. Where she thought the dust was going to come from, is a mystery, because she kept a very clean home. She made percolated coffee on her hulking Hotpoint stovetop in a slightly dented, large aluminum coffee pot with a hefty, black Bakelite handle. The aroma of coffee perfused the air and was the morning call to Grandaddy, or visiting grandchildren, to get up. 

Later, Grandmother Browne “Hooverd” the floors and carpets of her 1920s bungalow home – with a classic machine

 of the same vintage as her house and which made a crazy amount of noise. She swept the hardwood margins around the carpets with a mechanical floor sweeper. Always close by was an elongated, oval, black Fuller brush with which she groomed the upholstery of Granddaddy’s Morris Chair and her open armed rocking chair.

Following her morning work, she would sit in her rocking chair and read the morning newspaper, perhaps sipping a Coke.

After lunch, which might be a sandwich, she would “lie down”. 

In the afternoon, after starting dinner, she would return to her rocker with the afternoon paper.

Following dinner and the washing up, she would watch a bit of television, enjoying a bowl of Thrifty Maid “cream” – her favorite being Neapolitan, retiring for the night around 9:00…only to begin again the next day.

Flirtin’ with Disaster

Streaming up I-26 we sing along to Spotify’s Southern Rock 101 playlist… “I’m travelin’ down the road; I’m flirtin’ with disaster; I’ve got the pedal to the floor,…” reminiscing about where we were in the 1970s and how each of the list’s songs held some meaning for us in our history. Old people karaoke. Without mics or stages, but hot on the trail of joy and nostalgia. 

We play this game a lot. And in 2020 we found ourselves doing it much more than in the past. Because, you know, ‘Rona.

I felt expansive. Unrestricted. Albeit, still masked when pumping gas, dashing into a truck stop for a hot dog and a pee break, but you know…free. At least compared with all of 2020. We were speeding into joy.

If this was a Hallmark movie, we would be going home for Thanksgiving and there would be a warm glow around the edges of every scene. Perhaps I live too much in idealism, but I was lost in scenes of joyous reunions. Conversation where everyone talks together. Endless time for happy lingering.

Having received my COVID-19 vaccinations, I felt freer than I had for more than a year. The plan of a family reunion and dinner at Outback — not exactly a first tier restaurant — held more appeal than our cherished annual Christmas Eve luncheon at our favorite Charleston restaurant, Slightly North of Broad. 

We stayed at home. For months. Ordering pick-up groceries. Shopping the web. We came to recognize Amazon Prime delivery drivers by their signature style of delivering packages. Some tossed them a la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, some stealthily avoided our security cam by dipping their face or pulling down their cap. FedEx drivers distinguished themselves because they always rang the doorbell, while USPS package deliveries would be tossed on the steps as if the driver was playing the kids’ game where a designated structure is a river of fire…that postal package carrier never stepped on that burning flow: preferring to simply heave the package in the direction of the porch, sometimes making it, sometimes not. Thank heavens we were not ordering china.

Our first post-pandemic trip is to see family in Greenwood, South Carolina. Not a five star resort or mountain AirBnB rental, but more beloved and longed for than any deluxe get away. I’ve never gone that long without seeing them. Greenwood is where my 92 year old mother lives in a continuing care retirement community, which was closed to family for the entire pandemic. And Greenwood is where my older son and his family live too. 

For 13 months, longer than a human pregnancy, I felt as if I were gestating an elephant. Which would be named “Return to normality.” 


That hallway is long. Walking it seems as if only yesterday I was there. Not February 2020. I knocked on the door of my mother’s apartment. Opened by the caregiver, I introduced myself, but could not contain my excitement as I rushed into the living room. Yes, she still does know my face and voice. But she was a bit confused. Like I’d just walked from the room and had re-entered. Not like I’d been away for 14 months. No time. Just immediacy. Sad that her body is feeling its age, I am happy to be reunited. Thankful for the caregivers who have nurtured her for all these many months. 

I began a long exhalation…having not even been aware that for 13 months, I’d held my breath, hoping she would be there when I was able to safely visit. Now we hug and kiss. I did not weep. But felt a shimmering joy like the surface of a pond, ruffled in the breeze, as it dances along until it embraces the shore. At home at last.


I’ve watched surfers at Folly Beach all my life. The small, variable waves are hard to catch. Difficult to ride. They yield short rides that decline into minimal surf. But the proficient ones glide atop those waves. Finding their glory moment. Though some wipe-out before they even get started.

Our joy carried us into the lobby of the Hampton Inn. Delighted to know that we would be able to have contactless check-in via the Hilton app for our first floor room.

Our wave ran out. We bumped bottom. 

Our room wasn’t ready. We were punted to a second floor room; one that proved to be at the hall’s terminus, as far from the elevator as possible. A position I would have loved in prior years, but this pandemic year has seen my basketball trashed right knee require my use of a cane to keep me from hobbling like a crone. Oh, well, at least the bed was luxurious as we splashed down onto its surface. 

“Drip, drip, drip,” Bill said emerging from the bathroom. 

“What do you mean,” I inquired. 

“The bathroom faucet is dripping into the shower and the walls are covered with mold.” “How much are we paying for this, he wondered…” 

“Far too much to endure that,” I reply.

The housekeeper in the hall was upset that this room was rented to us. She muttered, “I keep telling them not to rent this room…but they keep doing it…”

“I’m going to go get y’all new keys for a new room. Stay here and I’ll be right back.”

When she returned she carried new key cards and pushed a luggage cart to assist our moving. Our new room she prounounced, “is across from the elevator on the third floor so you won’t have to walk far.”

Delayed from our reunion, I texted my son that we would be a bit later than expected, but to bring my grandson’s bathing suit, because the pool was open. My grandma visions of a splashing child buoyed my hopes.

Room 308 proved to be clean, drip-free, but with a sticky bathroom floor due to inadequate rinsing after mopping. But undeterred, I began to unpack our cold bag of homemade-yogurt into the fridge…but it didn’t seem to be cold to me. I fiddled with the on switch, cursing it. “Bill, check to see if this is working.”

“Well, it seems to be on,” he said.

In went the yogurt, the strawberries, apples and oranges which I’d brought for our breakfast and snacks. I added in the still frozen gel packs which had kept things cold on the trip up.

“Ok, let’s go.”

The little girl who lives inside me jumped up and down as her older self surfed the wave to Outback.

Time collapsed into hugs, split-face grins and unbounded joy as I held my first-born. And his son. And my daughter-in-love. 

This is the point in the Hallmark movie when they fade into a romantic montage of gesticulations, laughter and toasts. Fade to black. 

Yes. It was that good.


Every Hallmark movie has drama. We had ours in this our post-COVID rom-dram. 

Back in the hotel room.

I forgot my pillows. (I never go anywhere without them.) Bill banged his elbows on the shower walls. We were both frustrated that in order to turn on the shower, you have to have to step into it, getting wet in the process. 

“Did you see that the door’s safety latch is broken? Somebody tried to force it, so it won’t function,” notes Bill.

“And you have to shove the bedroom door into the frame to get it to latch,” he concludes.

Despite the comfy seeming bed, neither of us slept. We woke multiple times. Hot. Crampy. Kicking the hotel duvet off but immediately pulling it back. No happy medium because the AC was cool, but not enough for the heavy duvet. 

Morning came. I stirred to make coffee. I’d brought my French press so I could have “good coffee.” Not hotel crap. Putting water into the microwave, I realized I could not get it to start. 

First step in debugging: is it plugged in? Yes. To a power surge strip that was loaded with plugs for the television, fridge and the microwave. 

“Bill, look at this.” “Can you fix it?”

He fiddles with the powerstrip, checks its connections. “It’s plugged in.”

“I think the breaker’s tripped,” he diagnoses.

“I’m going to get dressed and go get some coffee and ask for the maintenance guy,” I said.

In the lobby, I got a cup of coffee, and spent five minutes trying to figure out how to put the lid on the cup, only to realize that they were a size mismatch.

Delicately balancing the hot coffee and navigating the hallway using my cane, I approached the desk and the clerk asked, “How can I be of assistance.”

“Our fridge, TV, microwave are not working because the breaker seems to be blown. Can you have the maintenance guy come check it out?”

“No,” he replies. 

“I can change your room for you because maintenance doesn’t work on the weekend,” he offers.

“I don’t want to change my room; I’ve already had to do that,” I grumbled.

“I’m sorry, that’s all I can do.”

Back up to the room. 

We talked it over. Both of us were tired. Yesterday’s euphoria and good will seemingly vanished.

I said to Bill, “if I’m going to pack, I’d just as soon pack to go home.”

“I agree,” he said.

Our Hallmark movie has hit it’s critical plot line. Hampton Inn had one job. A clean, comfortable, functional, safe room. They blew that.

We were somewhat restored by the kindness of the checkout clerk who apologized in a sincere manner, abbreviating our stay for 24 hours and awarding us extra “loyalty points” for our inconvenience.


The spring breeze, rainbow snapdragons and rhododendrons of the gardens at the retirement community gave us a renewed sense of joy. We greeted long-absent faces and returned to visit my mama.

And got a bonus. We were surprised by my brother and my sister-in-love. An all too short visit; we left to go spend the afternoon with my son’s family. 

Near sunset, we started our journey home. Bill sleeping upright, head jouncing along as the car rumbled over the rough pavement. 

Our first foray out was not quite the Hallmark movie I wanted. But still. We reunited. We hugged. We shared. We laughed. And laughed some more. But there was a bitter taste in my mouth…did I want too much? Do I?


I don’t know if my expectations were heightened due to the pandemic’s interruption of normal life, or if people’s ability to provide quality has been affected by business interruptions, but I know that I really was feeling the last lines of the Molly Hatchet song, 

“Yeah, we’re traveling down this lonesome road

Feel like I’m dragging a heavy load

Don’t try and turn my head away, 

Flirtin’ with disaster every day.”

as I drove us into the dark along I-26 and home.


Spent flowers

Faded flowers clipped
from the arrangement litter
the table with their muted tones.

Strangely Beautiful. The beauty
in death can be hard to see.
Yet these compel with their faded glory.

the blackness of spring

while every tree shows bright green
death inhabits.
rises into the air as poison.
life — with fetid breath — dies
and yet the cherries blossom.

tears, not rain, water our lawns
as we run circles. away
from a foe for which we have no defense.
burials wait until another season.

strangers gather our groceries,
deliver to doorsteps easter hams
for solitary resurrection celebrations.
we honor one who triumphs over death,
small comfort when we have no savior
in this war against a thief who steals spring.


There are bits of my childhood embedded in the night noises.

The cicada’s chatter like a shaman’s rattle summons visions.

I can see the girl I once was, standing in the belief that I would change the world.

And 50 odd years hence, here I am wondering about the depth of my imprint on the world.

The blades of grass between my toes invoke the cool summer nights of days before. When I lay upon the grass, looked to the heavens.

Believed that destiny would sweep me up. That I would make a mark so lasting that everyone would notice.


pink sasanqua camellia and bee

There will never be(e) a photo
of a flower that doesn’t make my heart bloom.

The Rite of High Summer

Summer Peaches

A supplicant stands at the kitchen basin.

Hands cradle warm, fragrant fruit.

Fingers skim velveteen surface.

Knife slips between skin and flesh,

flashes silver edges. On the longitude,

she inserts the blade. Parts the mesocarp.

Reveals a gnarled seed.

With a flick, the pit tumbles. Leaves a rosy

depression into which her thumb slides.

White teeth bite into yellow flesh. Stored sunshine

melts on her tongue. Rivulets of moisture trickle

arms, baptize chin and seal her to the moment.

Porch sitting

Wood Storks Close Up

I practice the art of porch sitting,
with my exposed heart outside my ribs
while black banded wood storks
glide to arboreal landings.

The folding of their wings catches me
tucks me into their bird-boned bodies,
integrates me to feathers.

Wind shifts, branches quaver.
A bird startles. Releases
me into the humid, fecund air.

I gentle down into my rocker,
as my heart beats from the exertion.



Your lips are eloquent

As they touch mine

Speak to me wordless

Lines of love

To be absorbed through

Skin. I feel the sharp

Points of your mustache

Scrape my philtrum

Prick my heart and cause

It to open as water cascades

From my eyes.

Home for the holidays

I am a flawed and broken woman who needs nothing more than sitting on the couch with my loved ones near. Their chatter burbles in the background as my soul sings. At last I exhale the breath I’ve held far too long. In their company is home. Peace. Redemption.

Maybe it was not the birth of the baby that was the start of the church (despite the Bible stories) but the gathering of man and woman to bring a child into the world celebrated by the presence of shepherds and wise ones. They formed the first circle. The one we emulate now in this house.

In this season of excess I’m glad we celebrate simply. No grand gifts. But no gift more grand than presence. This one cannot buy. All it requires is that we be here now. In this place, body and soul.