When I was in my mid-20’s, I lived with my aged, maternal grandmother and took care of her. She took care of me, too, mind you! She gave me a place to live and fed me. Anyway, this was the first time I really got to know my grandmother as a person. Until then, she had an almost mystical place in my life…the source of many years of birthday money, the sole recipient of long-distance phone calls from my childhood home, and the rare destination of family vacations.
Louise Sorrels DeOvies, aka Grandmommy, was a hoot. I can’t deny she had a lot of flaws. But learning about her, as I did and when I did (she was in her 70s), I came to believe that many of her flaws were a product of the social context in which she was raised. She grew up poor in the deep south. I often encouraged her to talk about her childhood, partly because I wanted to better understand why we disagreed about almost everything and partly because I just wanted to hear her stories. Here are some of my favorites.
When Grandmommy “became a woman,” she did so in a complete state of ignorance. She didn’t know what was happening or what to do about it. So she took her stained britches and threw them down a well. [She had a lot of older sisters. I think one of them explained her period to her afterwards.]
Grandmommy first saw her first husband, “Red” Jones, when she was picking cotton with her family. He was a good lookin’ man who rode past the field on a motor cycle. Her heart didn’t stand a chance. [She spoke fondly of this memory, but then qualified it with a dose of practicality. He was her way out of Mississippi and out of the field. And she took it.]
Grandmommy met her second husband, Julian DeOvies, through a co-worker (Julian’s son). She was a widow in her 40’s and he was a widower in his 50’s. She said when they dated, they carried on like high school sweethearts. I asked her “if they waited” (you know what I mean). She said she tried, but just couldn’t.
Like I said. Grandmommy was a hoot.
So what does this have to do with paganism?
I didn’t know until last week that I inspired my niece to pursue paganism. This has me thinking about the people in my life who gave me the confidence to step off the concrete and into the grass (to take the path less followed, if you will). Like Samantha, my inspiration came less from other people’s faith and more from other people’s attitudes. My family was laissez-faire about religion, if it came up at all.
I started thinking of myself as pagan while I was living with Grandmommy. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me until now that the two might be related [observation fail on my part]. As she approached death, she became increasingly terrified of it. [Another quick story… She worried about going to Heaven. What if Red and Julian were both there waiting for her? Would they fight over her? In jest, I reminded her that both of those men were candidates for the other final destination.] Her concerns about being caught in an celestial love triangle, though, were not the source of her fear of death. As far as I could tell, her fear stemmed from the incongruence between believing all her life that she would go to heaven and the visceral doubts she had about an afterlife when death was nigh.
I think her experience with death and dying caused me to be deeply thoughtful about my life (and eventual death). I started thinking about what I wanted, what I needed and what I was willing to accept to achieve my desired quality of life (in terms of my faith). I wanted freedom from doctrine, but I still needed a way to express my spirituality. I was willing to accept social scorn and possible economic sanctions (I was in the deep south at the time). But I was really worried about how my friends might react to my being pagan at the time. So much so, that I didn’t really come out until I moved to Austin.
Ah, but all is well now, eh? I’m here! I’m pagan! And I’m proud! Still, it’s fun to think of paganism as my “Red Jones” — a good lookin’ option that was my way out of the field! [The analogy ends there. Unlike Red, paganism is not a candidate for non-heavenly, final destinations. 8-)]