Wednesday, July 12, 2017

When Water is Thicker Than Blood

When you stop to think about the people who helped mold you into the person you are today, who are they? Parents? Definitely. Teachers? For sure. Friends and enemies? Absolutely. But what about your babysitter? Maybe not. Depends on the babysitter. This was mine.
"Granny Sweasy," pictured on the left (with 2 of her kids and my mom holding a wee little me), was the neighbor across the street from my grandparents. With both of my parents working full time jobs and my grandmother still working, there arose a need for someone to watch over me, starting as soon as my mom's maternity leave ended. Granny Sweasy was already watching her own children and her granddaughter so it was an easy (and lucky) solution to a looming problem.

In the days before Pinterest and "structured activities", growing up at the Sweasy's house meant playing with Lincoln logs, racing the big wheels down the driveway (and trying not to hit the gate at the end), making mud pies, endless games of H-O-R-S-E, playing house, playing tag, picking the dandelions to make a crown of flowers, and climbing one of the apple trees in their yard. We watched very little TV (although one time we managed to watch a tiny bit of Elm Street before she came downstairs and caught us and I don't think I slept for a week), she didn't do crafts or STEM activities and I don't remember having time-out. Although she certainly didn't tolerate disrespect or fighting so I'm sure she found some way to address it. But it was so subtle that I don't remember it. It was just lots of pretending, lots of making up stories, some singing, and days filled with play. And while I'm sure she played with us, I mostly remember her stepping back and letting us find our own way of playing together and solving our problems.

I remember summer mornings were spent outside playing. The grass was still damp with dew and I was worried about getting grass clippings stuck in my jelly shoes, but that was never a decent reason to come inside. Lunch was almost always bologna, Miracle Whip (which is why, to this day, I just say no to mayo when it comes to bologna) and white bread. Sometimes that bologna was fried and boy, did that make for the best day ever! And once, when I was singing (probably This Little Light of Mine after a week of Vacation Bible School), Granddaddy Sweasy (the patriarch of the family and the other half of the dynamite Sweasy babysitting team) told me that singing at the table will make you go crazy. He was joking when he said it, but to this day, if Blue starts singing at the table, I remind him it will make him go crazy.

After lunch was a mandatory "quiet time" for about an hour. It felt like longer. It felt like a lifetime when I wasn't sleepy. On those days, I would lay on the bed and make up stories until I finally talked myself to sleep. And then she would come in and wake me and laugh about how much she enjoyed my stories. When I was still trying to enforce nap time, Blue started doing this very thing. With legs waving in the air, he would sing nonsense songs and create an entire cast of characters, until his legs dropped, his voice slowed and his eyes finally closed.

Our Christmas gift from Granny and Granddaddy Sweasy was always a coloring book and a fresh box of crayons - the BIG box. I knew it was coming every year and every year I was excited to rip it open and start using them immediately. I have since passed that tradition on and last year, I purchased coloring books and crayons for every kid in Blue's preschool class. The parents were appreciative and the kids were ecstatic. Such a simple gift but it brings so much joy. Who doesn't love to color?

Granny and Granddaddy Sweasy were good, Catholic folks and a crucifix (which, admittedly, scared the hell out of me for awhile) hung on the wall and we always said grace before meals. But they also believed in respecting your elders. If Granny Sweasy said, "Allyson?" you had better not say "What?" You had better say "Ma'am?" Unfortunately, it didn't stick. "Ma'am" and "sir" roll off Neal's tongue much more swiftly than they do mine, but her attempts to correct me remain in my memory. And when you call your own child and you hear him answer "WHAT?" it does give you new appreciation for why she persisted, even though we sometimes said "what" just to annoy her.

Granny Sweasy always kept a clean house and she started every day with making the beds. I remember her sometimes making more than one but I also suspect that she usually expected her children to make their own beds. Regardless, when I make my bed every morning, it is not because of some habitual chore left over from years of living with my parents. It's because that's how Granny Sweasy started her day and it seemed to set the world right and there is nothing wrong with that. 

It is not hyperbole to say that I hear her voice more than my own parents in my head as I help to guide Blue through life. And more than her voice I am reminded of the gentle but firm way one brings up a child; with tight hugs and big smiles and deep laughter and the constant reminder to be honest, respectful and kind. In fact, as I type this, I vaguely remember The Golden Rule hanging somewhere in the house. That was a million moons ago and maybe I am remembering it wrong but the sentiment was always there.

This morning, Granny Sweasy passed away. A force to be reckoned with, she outlived Granddaddy Sweasy by several years and became, in my mind, invincible. It feels like the music has died with her. It is deep waves of sadness that I feel for her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is for those of us who loved her as our own grandmothers and for our children who will never get one of those tight hugs or see her grin so wide that her eyes almost disappear. The last time we visited her, Blue was about two and into EVERYTHING. I fussed at him constantly and she just kept saying, "It's OK, he's fine!" While her home wasn't child-proofed, she certainly valued the curiosity of a child over the price of things.

At the end of it all, we are ashes to ashes, dust to dust and the best we can hope for is to leave some kind of legacy. I want to live on through my child and through his children and his children's children. I want him to tell his child that if he sings at the table, it will make him go crazy. And I want him to hear me saying, "Use your words." I want him to hear his Daddy saying, "Protein will keep you full longer." I want him to treat others as he would want to be treated and remember to be polite but don't get bullied. I want him to remember lessons I tried to teach him and then watch as he decides which ones to pass on to the next generation. I think Granny Sweasy will make it pretty far down the Miller line. She has left her precious mark on innumerable children and that is the legacy of an angel.


  1. Though I knew I would eventually, I hadn't cried about my mother's death...until I read this. This is what did it. Thank you, Allyson. Doing so was a gift.

  2. And,you can also follow her example by passing her lessons on to others outside your family; be a "favorite aunt" to Shauna's childlren, or to the Possy's kids, and other children who need a special adult to influence their lives. You will do a great job of that!

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. I had a babysitter 3 days out of the week when my mother worked part time and I often hear her in my head too. She'll always be with you, in your mind and in your teachings, what a great legacy to leave behind. ox

  4. Very well written Allyson. It does feel like we have lost a grandparent ourselves. I often reminisce about the days spent at her house while my parents were at work. I now work on the military installation that I would watch helicopters take of from as a child. I can see her house as I come into post and leave post, every day.


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