My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Barnette Grace (aka Dot), lived in a simple home on Mitchell Street in Headland, Alabama. What prompted her to move to Headland from Shorterville was the sudden death of her husband, my grandfather and namesake, Victor Allen Grace. Living alone out in the country was not quite worth it anymore. It was hard. Surely the emotional and psychological impact of no longer sharing her home with a person she loved so dearly made it virtually unbearable - and yet Dot was a strong woman. Another factor luring her to Headland was her daughter and grandkids. Dot ended up buying a small home near the First Baptist Church, and just down the road from the city’s schools.
The expression “going to Dot’s” really took its meaning when I was going to the local school – elementary through high school. I could always count on going to Dot’s after school was out. I opened the gate to her chain-link fence and walked across the tiny yard to the steps leading to her front door. Up the red steps I’d go, and then I would simply knock on the door. After looking through the peep hole and playfully asking who was there or making a funny sound when she knew it was me, Dot would enthusiastically open the door. Inevitably, a kiss on the cheek and a “Hey Doll” or “Hey Sugar” would follow, and then I’d step on in. I would plop down on her sofa and sigh in relief. Dot’s home was always a refuge. Pressures from school work and everyday life would fall by the wayside. Of course, it wasn’t her home that really did it; it was Dot. Dot had a way of loving her grandkids. I never felt she didn’t love me.
“Going to Dot’s” meant entering a world of fascinating conversation. Dot’s manner of communication made it easy to converse with her. She was knowledgeable, quick, witty, straightforward and hilarious. She would always ask about my schoolwork and activities. She seemed truly interested in my daily activities, and I felt by talking with her it was a releasing of burdens. Her ability to draw you into conversations by asking pertinent questions was truly remarkable. Sooner or later our conversations would shift to talking about the family or Headland gossip. The entertainment she provided was beyond measure! I heard all kinds of jokes, even some – ones she and the old ladies told - with an occasional expletive, which, she’d end by saying, “Just don’t tell the preacher.” We’d then laugh. She also loved to share her stories of walking every morning with her sister-in-law Stacia, playing Rummikub at the senior center, doing her daily crosswords, and talking on the phone with her friends. Dot also had a strong tendency to remind us of history – in particular, family history. She talked to me about Victor, her upbringing, her relatives and life in the old days. She also reminded us of the stories surrounding mom’s and dad’s divorce. There were certain things she wanted us never to forget.
“Going to Dot’s” always involved eating. I remember so well knowing that my school day would end, and awaiting me at Dot’s would be some Jell-O Instant Pudding. Dot always had my favorite flavors: chocolate and vanilla. I would whip it a green bowl, using one of her hand mixers. Dot also had a lot of Lean Cuisines in her freezer. It sure seemed like she ate those all the time. I would partake in that as well when I would stay over for dinner. Eating a Lean Cuisine while watching Wheel of Fortune was a regular thing. By far my favorite food item at Dot’s was a poached egg. I would eat one the morning after spending the night. Dot’s routine was to poach the egg, toast the bread and then place the poached egg on the toast. I can hear her asking now, “Do you want me to cut it for you?” I never refused, primarily because I sensed it was something she desired to do. It made her feel good. I wonder if she did it for Victor. And, I might add, that poached egg, sliced with a tiny knife with an orange grip, sure seemed better served like it was.
“Going to Dot’s” meant money. She was a very generous person. She would give me money for making good grades, for having a birthday or just because she wanted to. On occasion, I would have to really work for her money! It usually involved cutting grass. Dot’s push lawnmower and gas container were in her storage shed, just behind the car port. Whenever it was time to cut the grass, I’d open the shed and go to work. It sure didn’t take long to cut her yard, yet it was a great form of exercise, and it provided me with some income to buy baseball cards, music and other things I liked. The best thing was that she simply trusted that I did a good job. My guess is that she probably went out and inspected the yard after I left. It must have been good enough, because she never really complained. Having Dot as an employer was a dream! She always had work, and she paid well!
“Going to Dot’s” was a sign that church was over. I rarely visited her home after morning church. Evenings though – wow! – were a different story. Making that short walk from the church to her home was sheer excitement. Not that I didn’t enjoy church; I did. It was just that Dot’s home was so close by. Boy, I can remember taking that walk to her home. Church would be over and I was out the door. I would walk quickly to Dot’s. I would jump up onto the sidewalk, and head towards her home, guided by a streetlight. The warm evening air and the sounds of insects stay with me to this day. As I got closer to Dot’s, her den light would beckon me. Once inside her home, I was safe. I had countless numbers of Sunday night visits with Dot.
“Going to Dot’s” ensured that certain homework assignments would be completed. She was actually one of my school projects once! I recorded an interview with her for my history class, and it’s a tape I will always treasure. Even though she knew she was being recorded, it didn’t stop her from being spontaneous and fun. She was that real. And if you ticked her off, you’d hear about it. While conducting the interview, I recall accidentally snapping her fingernail file in two and she let loose with a “bad word” or two! That was signature Dorothy Grace! And I have this on tape! On another occasion, she supplied her typewriter and encyclopedia set for a high class assignment. I went through her encyclopedias looking for an interesting subject. Her electric typewriter was set up on her kitchen table, and Volume H was in place. I decided I was doing a paper on Adolph Hitler! Dot came through for me.
“Going to Dot’s” meant occasionally spending the night. We watched her TV programs - ones I really enjoyed too. Her bathroom was so much smaller than the one at my home. It was a more challenging to figure out how to use the faucets and how to get the water temperature adjusted. In the spare bedroom, where I sometimes slept, I was always a bit afraid. The bed was giant-sized, and lights from passing cars would create movements on the walls. Her sheets also stood out to me. They were tucked in so tight, as was the blanket. I kicked out those sheets with my feet until I eventually got comfortable. But they were still in tight! And then there was the clean fragrance of the sheets and the aroma of the wood furniture. There was a very distinct and pleasant fragrance that could only come from Dot’s house - something unique, something reassuring.