On the Death of Dorothy Dyson
Updated: Jan 28
Waking up after spending the night at Grandma’s house, I’d hear her and my grandfather chatting down the hall, over the sounds of her fixing breakfast. She started before the sun rose, but I stayed in bed until I smelled the bacon. By that time, the biscuits and the cheesy scrambled eggs would be ready, and the sun would have started to rise. I drank coffee with her and Granddad, adding a lot of milk and a lot of sugar.
My grandmother Dorothy brought a lot of sweetness to my young life, not the least of it being her sweet tea, which is still the best I’ve ever tasted, and not because of nostalgia but because of her particular recipe, which I will not disclose. Grandma taught herself to cook, my mother told me, and the recipes she came up with were all her own. That’s why no one else’s creamed corn or butter beans tasted anything like hers and none could hold a candle. Grandma’s was the house we came to for all the holidays, and she would prepare a feast that we lined up to pile onto our plates. My oldest cousin and I went back for second and third helpings.
Grandma introduced me to my Southernness. One time, she told me that someone I asked about was over “yonder,” leading me to ask, “Where is yonder?” My North Carolina was something different than the one in which she grew up, and she attached me to that past. I can still hear her voice, pitched sweetly upward, saying, “Well, I don’t rightly know…” and “Have you had a’plenty?” and “Bless your heart!” When I was five-years-old, we sat out on the swing just inside the trees behind her house and sang together, “She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes…” She’ll be riding six white horses… Oh, we’ll all go out to greet her… And we’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes.
I remember Grandma as a woman who couldn’t much sit still. Always she seemed to buzz around to this task or that. My dad, her daughter’s husband, always tried to get her to sit down during meals, at least once the rest of us had all started eating. I don’t remember him ever succeeding. Once the food was ready and other people fed, she made up a plate for her mother, my great-grandmother Elizabeth, to feed her as she watched TV from the chair in which she lived. Then there were dishes to wash after.
These days, I think Grandma’s care-taking fought back a whole lot of worry, and as she got older, I saw the worry winning. The cares became too much to take. A lot of difficulty came her way, some of which maybe was always there but only talked about in hushed kitchen conversations I never got to know when I was little. Her last years, in particular, saw a lot of suffering.
Yesterday morning, she passed away. Her suffering has ended. I miss the woman she was. And I am grateful for all she gave me.