November means Carrie Jane Kelley Phillips
I am one of four girls. My father is the oldest of 8. In my life he had only 5 surviving siblings. Three brothers and two sisters. His family lived in a small southern Ohio town, Wellston. My grandfather, his father, died when I was maybe 4. I remember him as this big, burly man who would squeeze us with "bear hugs" when we visited and throw my sister, Syd, way up in the air and catch her. He never did that to me because I was afraid.
This is not about him though. It is about the most amazing, loving, funny, brilliant, beautiful woman I have ever known. My gramma, Carrie Jane. Grams, as we called her, had the most infectious laugh that would fill up a room with palatable happiness.
My dad loved to go to Wellston. For most of my parents' married life, Wellston was our weekend destination. I am quite sure my mom hated going there for the most part, which definitely factors into my deep love for the place and people.
Many trips developed at the last minute and we would load the car with pillows and other luggage and drive in the dark, on the "twisty-curvy" roads to visit Grams.
I loved waking up at Gramma's, watching my Aunt Kim get ready for school, listening to my dad entertain Grams with his big ole stories, and hearing her say, "oh Maxi, how you do go on...". My uncle Brooke had this room that was outfitted with black lights and reel to reel tape music thingy. We would go in there when he was gone...to school maybe? And close all the curtains and doors and turn on the black lights and dance around to his music!!
Once school was out and the Uncles and Aunts were home from work, all of the cousins would start to show up at Gramma's. Uncle Robert and Paulette's kids, JoyeLin, Bobby, Brent, and Mandy.....Aunt Kathy and Sam's kids, Kelley Ann, Carrie, and Michael Shawn...
I loved my cousins. I would get so excited to see them...giddy...
Remembering it makes my heart swell... we had so much fun together!!
But my Gramma Carrie was the Matriarch of this family, my family. She loved having a house full. She would cook and entertain us all. She used to make this homemade granola in the oven that was unbelievable. It was so delicious! I can smell it baking right now.
My gramma was an animal lover and she always had tons of cats. She had indoor Siamese cats but she fed about 15 neighborhood cats on her back porch. I learned so much from her about unconditional love for all things. We would go to church with grams. She was not Catholic, like us, but I loved going with her. She had the most amazingly beautiful voice and she would sing those hymns and it would bring tears to your eyes. She was always dressed so stylishly and had her hair done professional every week. I would just stare at her. She was so much better than any woman I had ever known.
Today, Facebook has allowed me to be in contact with all of my cousins. Of course Brooke and Kim grew up and got married and added to our Phillips clan. Lots and lots of GIRL power in that Phillips family.
My parents divorced and my dad remarried. We still would go to Wellston with him, but much less frequently. Syd, Ande and I wrote letters to Grams for years, and she kept all of them. After she died, Aunt Kim gave them to us. I have them all.
As my sisters and I and grew up and started our own lives, we would take our "sister trips" and many years we would go to Wellston. It was different as adults, and we learned a lot about our history from this amazing woman. The patterns were the same though...wait for the Aunts and cousins to get home from wherever...and then all gather and visit together. Cousins and second cousins. For Gramma, grands and great-grands.
I think of Carrie Jane a lot. I carry her middle name. My Lea does too. Gramma met Grace; I have a picture of her holding Grace. She knew about Lea but she died when Lea was less than 6 months old.
We all went to her funeral. All of her children. Their spouses. All of my cousins, and their children. I was grief stricken. I touched her hand as she lay in the coffin. I had to. I loved her so much. I felt so many emotions that day. It was a whirl wind trip. We went to a local hole in the wall bar with my Dad, all 4 of us, and had a drink to Carrie Jane. She would have appreciated that. I have not been back to Wellston. My dad lives there. Many of my cousins do too. I tried to plan a reunion a few years ago....there is a bit of strife between some of the sibling cousins. So that didn't happen. It will though. One day I will take my girls there so they can see it for themselves. I hope it is soon. My girls don't have many cousins. Only 3 really.
I have so many. California is far away from Ohio. It is probably easier for me to go there.
My girls have one Gramma and one step-Gramma. They don't have the same need for a Gramma as I did. I needed a strong, brave, poised, brilliant role model....my girls have me.
I know how that sounds and I mean it to sound just like that.
I love you Gramma Carrie Jane. I honor you, and all you gave me, every day as I try to be my best. I see you in my Lea and my Grace. My unbreakable bond with my sisters was born as much out of your example with your sisters, as out of our own desperate need to have a close family.
As my dad always said, "You can't fight the gene pool Dani Jane".
So I graciously accept the genes that trickled down from her.