Two weeks ago—April 26th, specifically—was the anniversary of my granny’s death. For that that reason and others that will become obvious as you read, this post is dedicated to her.
Because I was the oldest child in my family and I played softball, basketball, campus bowl, and track, I spent a lot of my pre-driving years with my granny. She worked in town, so most days she drove me to early mornings, then picked me up when afternoon practice got out. I had two options when I was riding with Granny to and from school: I could listen to her talk about my books, my hair, my clothes, my friends, my parents’friends—she had an opinion about everything that existed and some things that didn’t—or we could listen to music.
My granny loved music. Bluegrass, hymns, old country, Charlie Pride, Andy Griffith. Music spoke to her—she told me so once after I sang a special at church, that music touched her when preaching couldn’t, it told her about Heaven and what it would be like to be loved and safe. This was something we had in common.
Some kids hate their parents’ and grandparents’ music. I loved it. Especially this one group—the Kingston Trio. They were so funny and smart. “To Morrow” was my favorite of their songs. (If you’ve got time, you should definitely check it out. You’ll need two or three listens.)
Being just a dumb kid without any concept of context or history, I assumed that music like the Kingston Trio was par for the old-people-course. More recently, when I finally found all of Granny’s old tapes and dug some Kingston Trio music out of the internet, I learned differently. The band became popular on the college scene because of the way they made fun of bureaucracy, questioned authority, and because of their sincere desire to see change in capitalist America. Adults at the time hated them.
When I was a child, I couldn’t appreciate why Granny was the only person I knew who had even heard of the Kingston Trio. I’ve grown up a lot since she died. I’ve lived places besides Emden, listened to music that you would never hear in Missouri, stuff people around here would think was blasphemy or communism, one. (Communism being the least forgivable.) Now I can appreciate that my granny was listening to rebel music.
When I was a kid, all Granny was to me was the person I pushed away from, somebody to be different from and sometimes to argue with just because I wanted her to be wrong. It’s been until I’ve gotten older that I started to see the full picture. Granny had an opinion about everything and no fear of telling people what it was in a time when good women didn’t. She and my grandpa couldn’t have children—another strike against her—so they adopted. When a teacher told one of Granny’s children that he couldn’t make a family tree because he was adopted, Granny called that teacher up and told her we were all children of God and that made us all adopted, thank you very much. When the preacher told her that she couldn’t teach Sunday school anymore because she didn’t wear skirts all the time, Granny told him she’d like to see him climbing over fences and chasing cows in a skirt. She was first person I’d ever known who stopped going to church because she didn’t believe in the way that the pastor was preaching the Word. She understood that there was a difference between questioning the authority of the ordained man and the authority of God.
Granny was our family’s—probably our entire rural community’s—original dissenter. I wish I’d gotten more time to get to know that side of her better. People like her, people who didn’t let labels or expectations define them, paved the way for people like us the same way the Kingston Trio paved the way for bands like the Mountain Goats.