As you can imagine, it was a rather dramatic leave-taking (or perhaps anti-climatic given the trauma of the past week’s visit). All I could do as the in-laws carried luggage and packed their camper-van for the voyage home was cry and feel terribly guilty that I’d not called Grannie the past week or so, as promised. I’d been too “busy” preparing for guests, and then once here, too tired from entertaining. Such lame excuses. GG please forgive me.
People typically say a lot of nice things about a person when they’ve just died, some true, some not so true. But in GG’s case, we can all honestly say she was an amazing, remarkable woman in more ways than possible to recount here. There are many other important events not mentioned here – both personal to GG and on a larger scale.
One of GG’s most remarkable qualities was extremely good health combined with a great sense of humour. Over the years, with the exception of a broken wrist, the only serious ailment Grannie suffered was increasing deafness. Towards her end, she also had a bit of high blood pressure. Not that GG would consider anything serious, anyway. It wasn’t her way.
In regards to her growing deafness, GG would claim in her witty manner, “Oh honey… I don’t mind my hearing a-going. At my age I’ve heard it all before anyway!“. She hated wearing a hearing-aid, not due to vanity but because she said they didn’t work,and found them annoying. Increasingly, it made social occasions more difficult for her, but sh generally always enjoyed a social gathering and small parties.
GG’s mind and the rest of her remained sharp as a tack and full of lively fun and life-loving vigor. An adventurous jet-setter, she continued to travel around the world and Europe up into her ’90s! In fact, on one of her last flights over to England on BA, the airline upgraded her and Maggie Ma to 1st Class. We reckon when BA realised GG was in her 90s, they’d best take extra special care of her! But, GG was one of those few fortunates in that she was rarely ill and only really suffered serious health problems in her last couple weeks. Not many of us can claim such fantastic health.
Known to all as Pat, GG was widowed in her mid-50’s, but enjoyed a rich social and family life. Over the years, she’d jet-set around the globe with a close-knit group of friends and family. Always throughly enjoying herself. She was a wonderful story-teller and would come back from her travels with many tales. Full of fun, young at heart and lively conversation, no one other perhaps my father could tell a good story quite like GG. As for day-to-day life in Nashville, Pat carried on with her weekly bridge and social activities, along with her hair appointment up until she was over 100 years old! Likewise, young and old enjoyed GG’s company. Someone once said that this may have been because GG was such a positive sprite of energy.
GG was often asked for her secret of healthy long living. As usual, Grannie, would brush such questions aside, “Well honey… I just don’t know.” But you know people, especially those in search for eternal youth. A very determined lot, many folks pressed GG for more info, “Do you do anything special to keep healthy, Mrs Griggs?”. She’d alway reply, “Nah honey… nothing special”.
Surprisingly, this was true. For those that knew GG, you’d know that while she was gifted with marvelous genes for longevity – most of her family lived long lives, but despite being the eldest of several sisters and a brother she outlived them all.
GG was a model that moderation is best. She lived her life in Tennessee where the climate is fairly moderate. Her mother’s family, the Yeary’s lived off the land with home-grown food and meat on their plantation in Eastern Tennessee. Then later, food from the garden of her father’s home in Morristown, TN. She loved good food and was herself a good Southern cook, but never known to overeat or gorge. She rarely snacked, yet loved an afternoon English creme tea when visiting in England. Or when home in the US, afternoon coffee with a bit of cake or cookies, especially if the latter were home-baked. She enjoyed a cocktail from time to time, especially scotch, but drank moderately, usually before or after dinner in the evening. She was physically active, but didn’t jog, lift weights or go to the gym to work-out. Instead, each day she did a bit of gardening, hung out the laundry on the washing line, did her own ironing and house cleaning and partook of long walks, especially when abroad sightseeing.
Music and dancing remained a life-long love. When GG turned 100, all her mates took her out on the town, celebrating her birthday at the legendary Tootsies Orchid Lounge in Nashville. Wade Hayes joined the party to gift her with his “Old Enough to Know Better” album and to sing to the birthday lady. Check out the video, “Pat turns 100!”
Like many of the family and her friends, I often wondered and marveled at all the history GG experienced over her 100+ years. Imagine being born in the year 1908. Many times, we encouraged GG to tell her stories of life through the decades and allow us to capture her histories on tape. Afterall, she’d experienced first-hand some of our most historic times, and also two of my personal favorite decades: 1920s-1930s. Several determined relatives even tried to get GG to write her memoirs. But, she always responded by saying, “Oh honey… no one wants to hear about an old lady’s life. There’s so much more exciting happenings going on these days.” Soooo GG!
Famous People Born in 1908
When born, by all accounts 1908 was a good year. It gave birth to some of the world’s most fascinating , enthralling and influential people of the century. Just to name a few to share GG’s birth year, there was:
- John Bardeen, an American who won two Nobel Prizes for Physics for ideas which literally changed our world: the invention of first the transistor and the development of superconductivity. (Beginning of the wireless, i.e. radio.)
- Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneer in photojournalism that set today’s media standards for how we receive our news info.
- Ian Fleming
- Alistair Cooke
- Joseph McCarthy (Don’t think any of the family got caught up in that debacle.)
- Louis Jordan (One of many Jazz and Big Band musicians GG loved to listen to.)
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Nelson Rockefeller
- Simone de Beauvoir, an existentialist philosopher who wrote The Second Sex, a classic and seminal work of feminist literature detailing women’s oppression. She is closely associated with her life-long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.
- Sir Michael Redgrave(GG loved the theatre and films.)
- Carole Lombard, darling of the film industry during the 1930s, and who married Clark Gable. She died a few years later at the height of her fame in a plane crash.
- Jimmy Stewart ( Always a big family favorite.)
Grannie Griggs although not famous in the conventual sense, was herself an amazing person, yet never thought of herself as such. For the rest of us, however, we remain in awe of the mind-boggling kaleidoscope of events she experienced throughout her lifetime. She outlived all those folks above and many others.
A Timeline of Events During GG’s 104 Years
The list of events which have occurred during Grannie Grigg’s lifetime would fill a book. In fact, books have been written. But out of all these history-changing moments, as a memorial to GG, I’ve listed some of those which would have impacted GG personally, or affected her life albeit sometimes indirectly.
Having been born in April 1908, I imagine as a child she took very little notice that in:
- The first passenger airplane flight takes place when Wilbur Wright escorts Charles W. Furnas in the Wright Flyer III, and thus the age of air travel is born.
- The the beginning of automobile era with the 1st production of the Model T built at the Ford plant in Detroit, Michigan
- Americans are introduced to the joy of Federal income tax with the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
- The Titanic sinks
- Babe Ruth makes his major baseball league debut
- Halley’s Comet makes an appearance
- The Tango catches on
- New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob patents a Brassiere, i.e. the Bra
- Long distance girl chats made possible when Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson conduct the first telephone conversation between NYC and San Francisco
- The USA declares war on Germany and join the allies in World War I
However, by the time Grannie Griggs is ten years old, she may remember that in:
- Global time zones are officially established which also included daylight savings time (how did people know what time to call people overseas before?)
- The first world airmail postal service is launched (a letter from the US would be delivered in England within 5 days back then, instead of the 2 weeks it takes now.)
- The Spanish influenza epidemic spans the globe killing over twenty million worldwide (GG thankfully missed that bullet.)
- End of World War I (and practically a whole generation of men.)
As an adult, GG enjoyed a tipple from time to time. However, when she was 11 years old, she probably didn’t care that Prohibition becomes the law of the land in 1919. It would remain illegal to consume and sell alcoholic beverages in the United States until December 5, 1933.
By the time GG hits her teen years, she may have celebrated with her mum and sisters that women were finally given the right to vote in the US. Hooray!
At 5’8″, Grannie was a tall slender willow of a young woman with the perfect figure to wear some of the daring flapper fashions of the day. This may also have been when her life-long love of dancing began, doing the Charleston to the sounds of the Great Jazz age. Meanwhile, her Social Studies teacher at school may have shared such world events as:
- First commercial radio broadcast aired and the Age of the Wireless begins
- Lie Detector invented
BBC Founded (GG loved Miss Marple and costume dramas)
- Hitler publishes Mein Kampf
- Penicillin discovered (Saving millions of lives since then.)
- Sliced bread invented (Preventing lots of arguments about who got the largest slice of bread.)
- That Mexican rascal, Pancho Villa, finally retires
- Insulin discovered (Prolonging lots of other lives.)
- – First Academy Awards
– The Oscars (No big dead at first, believe it or not but great fashion parade even then.)
- – Stock Market crashes (A huge deal to a lot of people, with a ripple effect that sweeps the world.)
When 1930 rolls around, GG as a young lady of 22 hits her stride. She grows into an independent woman. This is when she also begins a life-long love of travel and adventure with her first trip outside the great state of Tennessee to visit the Chicago World Fair. A trip she took with her father and sisters prior to her marriage. During this time period she continues to work at the US Postal Service until marrying Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome in the mid-1930’s.
Back in those days, GG told us that women were forced to quit their jobs after marriage. But soon after her marriage, the birth of her son, Albert, Jr, but called Len, and managing her new household and garden filled much of her time. Remember, these were the days before electric conveniences of every type in the house. Plus, she carries on with her weekly bridge games, other social events and, of course, sessions at the beauty parlour. In many ways, the 30’s were more life changing for GG and the rest of the world than any other decade.
- Air Conditioning invented making Summer in the South tolerable
- Amelia Earhart first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic
- Lindbergh’s baby kidnapped
- Scientists split the atom (Uh oh)
- Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany
- First Nazi concentration camp established
- Cheeseburger created – YUM!
- Parker Brothers begin selling the game “Monopoly”, a family favorite
- Social Security takes effect in USA
- Bonnie and Clyde killed by police
- Carnegie Publishes How to Win Friends and Influence People (and you thought self-help books were invented in the 1980’s)
- King Edward VIII Abdicates and Marries Wallis Simpson
- Amelia Earhart vanishes
- The Hindenburg disaster
- – First Commercial flight over the Atlantic
- – Helicopter invented
- – World War II begins
In January of 1940, GG gives birth to her daughter, Margaret (my Maggie Ma, also known as Peggy). Despite a decade of war and deprivation, GG has a full life. Spending time with her immediate and extended large family, she enjoys a very active social life. Much of the events of this period must have affected her and the family in both good and bad ways, but she rarely talked about it.
- Battle of Britain
- Nylon Stockings hit the market (GG was a Southern Belle and always wore stockings when dressed up… never a bare leg shown!)
- T-shirt introduced (It was only many years later that GG would ever be found wearing a T-shirt or “Sweat-shirt”, but certainly not in the 40’s!)
- Ballpoint Pens go on sale (Extremely popular at the get-go.)
- First Computer Built (ENIAC) (Who knew?)
– Germans surrender
– Microwave oven invented (But GG and other consumers never really took any notice until 30-40 years later.)
- Slinky Toy hits shelves (Her kids love Slinkys.)
- United Nations founded
- USA Drops Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (effectively ending WWII.)
- Bikinis introduced (I don’t think GG ever wore a bikini then or later)
- Dead Sea Scrolls discovered
- Polaroid cameras invented (Very popular with all the family, but not until the 1970s.)
- China becomes communist (The “Cold War” heats up.)
- First Non-Stop Flight around the world (Exciting news for world travelers… making it very possible for the very rich to reach London within a couple of days, instead of a week’s stay on a cruise ship. But still considered extremely exciting, but risky travel.)
It is said that a woman in her 40s is just reaching her prime. I wonder what GG thought of this iconic era of mass consumerism, big cars and poodle skirts. She never talked about it much, except in reference to her kids who were teens during this period. Not to mention:
- First modern credit card introduced (Very handy device, but the conservative Pat wasn’t a big believer in “free” credit.)
- First organ transplant (A nice to know, just in case!)
- Korean War begins (Any male under the age of 40 is eligible for combat.)
- Senator Joseph McCarthy begins his communist witch hunt (I believe most of the family avoided any burnings at the stake, but it was major news of the era.)
- Color TV introduced (A big hit in the Griggs household and many others!)
- Car seat belts introduced (Not so popular at first. Afterall, they creased your starched wrinkle-free clothes. It took several State and Federal laws to enforce the use of seat belts.)
- Polio vaccine created (About time!)
- Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen at age 25 (Americans were so proud of her.)
- DNA discovered (What for?)
- Britain sponsors an expedition to search for the abominable snowman (Another big news event back then, but the snowman was never really spotted. I think GG thought it a real hoot, but a waste of money.)
- – Report says cigarettes cause cancer (GG wasn’t much of a smoker, only when in her early 20’s before she married.)
- Disneyland opens (Few families from the East or Deep South could afford the trip until Disney World opened in Florida decades later. Afterall, the Interstate Highway road system hadn’t been built, and traveling to California back then was an expensive, long, tiring journey in the car or on a train for most folks.)
- McDonald’s start selling the 50s diet of choice: hamburgers, fries and milkshakes A huge winner from day 1 – how else can you feed the kids quickly, do the laundry, iron, clean the house and still look like the perfect Step-ford wife?!?
- Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus (Super big deal in the Deep South and later a symbol for the Civil Rights Movement).
- Elvis gyrates on Ed Sullivan’s show (What a handsome boy, but not sure about his dancing ability.)
Grace Kelly Marries Prince Rainier III of Monaco (Oh.. how lovely and wonderful. Let’s go vacation soon to France and Monte Carlo.)
- TV remote control invented (Just another reason for men to avoid washing the dishes!)
- Velcro introduced (Why?)
- European Economic Community established (Well… about time! Grannie was very up on her international politics and economics. Very smart lady of her time.)
- Soviet Satellite Sputnik launches space age (Interesting, but why?)
- My father, Robert Edward Lee Bracewell, Jr, marries his first wife, Camille. Then later has a son, Robbie, III. Within the same time period the couple adopt another son, Anthony. Years later, GG’s daughter, Margaret, became step-mother to those two boys.
- Hula Hoops become popular (Well… That’s looks like fun exercise.)
- LEGO bricks hit the toy stores (Is that even American? Another popular choice for Santa. They are like Lincoln Logs, but don’t stain the carpet.)
- NASA founded (About time we caught up with those Russians!)
- Peace Symbol created (The what?)
Castro becomes dictator of Cuba (Now, why would such a beautiful island like Cuba want to become communist?)
- Barbie is tops on every girl’s favorite must-have doll list! (That doll is far too mature for young girls! But, what a lovely face she has and her clothes are beautiful.)
- My father marries my mother, Sue Ann Alldredge (GG didn’t know that he was going to be her son-in-law within in just over a decade.)
If the 1950’s was the decade of BIG EVERYTHING, then the 1960’s was the decade of BIG CHANGE and lots of it. I get the impression that much of that change passed GG by. She remained as charming and graceful as ever, yet never came across as old-fashioned. So perhaps she did change a bit with the times, or perhaps GG was simply ageless! Here I’ve got to admit that I never heard many opinions from her on what happened in the 60’s. I was born in 1960 and a very self-absorbed child throughout the decade. But gosh… a lot happened! There was the:
- Bay of Pigs invasion (Cuban Missile Crisis)
- My parents give birth to moi. My mother hadn’t a clue what to do with me, but luckily my father and grandmother had some experience with babies.
- Berlin Wall built
- Peace Corps founded
- My dad meets Peggy, GG’s daughter and my future step-mum when interviewing her for a computer job at Brown Engineering. Way to go Maggie – a real pioneer of the computer age, and a woman before her time!
- Andy Warhol exhibits his Campbell’s Soup Can
- Marilyn Monroe Found Dead
- Betty Friedan Publishes The Feminine Mystique
- JFK Assassinated
- My sister, Jenifer, is born. (Later to be GG’s step-grand-daughter.)
- Martin Luther King Jr. makes his “I Have a Dream” speech
- Beatles mania spreads across America
- Civil Rights Act Passes in USA
- The Birth Control Pill (invented earlier) begins to be dispensed to women around the world.
- Vidal Sassoon’s “wash and wear” philosophy liberated women from the “tyranny of the salon” and “revolutionised the art of hairstyling. (But not so much for GG. She continued to visit the salon religiously each week to have her hair styled. However, she did adopt a shorter haircut.)
- Japan’s Bullet Train Opens
- U.S. Sends Troops to Vietnam
- Star Trek TV Series Airs (I don’t think GG was a trekkie, but she thought William Shatner was a good-looking man)
- Australian Prime Minister Disappears
- My baby brother, Steven, is born. (Another soon to be step-grandchild for GG.)
- First Heart transplant
- First Super Bowl
- Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated
- Robert F. Kennedy assassinated
- ARPANET, the Precursor of the Internet, created (No one had a clue until the late ’80s / ’90s.)
– Charles Manson and “Family” arrested (Major shocking news of the first known mass murder in America.)
- – Neil Armstrong becomes the first man on the moon (Huge TV event in the Grigg and Bracewell households.)
A lot happened in this decade, but a bit of a blur to me as a self-absorbed teenager. The fun bit was when Dad & Maggie, and then us kids moved to England. GG got to visit a lot, when not globe-trotting elsewhere.
- VCRs Introduced – very cool that you can actually watch a major motion film at home on your very own TV!
- Pocket calculators introduced (At a cost of $200! Decades later, calculators would be free on mobile phones. But like many of her generation GG did just find with math without a calculator.)
- Terrorists attack at the Olympic Games in Munich (American public’s first exposure to terrorism. Hello! Wake up America!)
- Watergate scandal begins (More American innocence lost.)
- Abortion legalized (No idea what GG thought on this subject… it wasn’t discussed., but a big deal of the time.)
- USA pulls out of Vietnam
- Bell-bottom jeans, mid-riffed shirts and platform shoes are the “look” (and not just for the guys!)
- Nixon resigns
- Microsoft founded
- Elvis found dead
- Ayatollah Khomeini Returns as Leader of Iran and kidnaps a bunch of ex-pats, including Americans (Who is he and why?)
- Margaret Thatcher 1st female Prime Minister of Great Britain (Bloody marvelous!)
- Sony introduces the Walkman (Is that what all those joggers are wearing?)
- My father marries GG’s daughter, Margaret (Maggie Ma) at GG’s family home in Morristown, Tennessee. Despite some of us giving her hell in our teens or older, she’s been a fabulous mum to Dad’s 5 kids and grandmother; and GG a most loving, attentive grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.
- John Lennon assassinated
- Mount St. Helens erupts (Thankfully, GG’s son and his family were nowhere near.)
- Rubik’s Cube Becomes Popular (A popular gift for GG’s growing number of grandkids.)
- Ted Turner establishes CNN
- New plague identified as AIDS
- Personal Computers (the PC) introduced by IBM (but only after my Dad and other rebels at IBM lost a lot of blood, sweat and tears to convince the blue giant to move into Apple’s brave new world.)
- Wreck of the Titanic found (GG could have been the old lady in the film had she been on the real Titanic.)
- Challenger Space Shuttle tragically explodes
- Chernobyl Nuclear accident (GG avoided that region in her world travels.)
- Pan Am Flight 103 is bombed over Lockerbie (Any of us, including GG, could have been on that flight, and felt very lucky that we weren’t traveling that day.)
- Berlin Wall falls (A visit to Berlin goes on GG’s bucket list.)
- Exxon Valdez wreak spills millions of gallons of oil on Alaskan coastline (The worse assignment of my entire Coast Guard career.)
- President Bush announces that he doesn’t like broccoli (GG response was, “Who cares, what about the economy?”)
- Nelson Mandela freed
- Collapse of the Soviet Union
- Lorena Bobbitt gets revenge by cutting off her cheatin’ husband’s winky
- Use of the Internet grows exponentially (GG never really used email or the Internet, preferring to write old fashion letters and cards for birthdays and Christmas.)
- Two Royal divorces (GG didn’t approve… she said divorce had been made just to easy and married folks should try harder to make it work.)
- Unabomber arrested (GG was an avid reader and liked to keep up with news locally and around the world. She read the newspaper nearly every day of her life.)
- Hong Kong returned to China
- Princess Diana dies in car crash (That poor girl and those poor boys!)
- Scientists clone sheep
- Viagra on the market (Do men really need it?)
- The Euro becomes the new European currency (GG was glad the UK kept the pound sterling).
- Fear of Y2K Bug (Not a problem for GG, but she appreciated that it gave her daughter and grandkids a lot of good paying work.)
- JFK Jr. and his wife die in plane accident (That family must be cursed.)
- Panama Canal returns to Panama (Makes good sense.)
- Mapping the Human Genome (The family all thought that scientists should map GG’s genome and clone it for future generations.)
- Unclear Winner in U.S. Presidential Election – Gore vs Bush (Don’t think GG really believed the corruption conspiracy allegations. “That sort thing surely doesn’t still happen in America?”
- 9/11 – Terrorist attack on World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania killing nearly 3,000 people
- Microsoft Ordered to Split
- Boxing Day Tsunami in SE Asia kills approximately 230,000 people or still missing
- Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the USA, becoming the nation’s 1st African-American president. (“Well… what a surprise, I thought surely a woman would be president first.)
- Pat (GG) turns 100 years old, and carries on up to 104 years old
- Fidel Castro resigns (“Didn’t realise he was still alive.”)
- Prince William and Kate Middleton get married
- Prince Albert of Monaco marries an Olympic swimmer from South Africa. (What was that story about someone in the family dating him? Guess he got away!)
- The new century is called the Age of Turbulence due to multiple financial, energy and economic crises which impacts nearly all nations globally
- Age of Technology and Social Media marks the decade, becoming mainstream across the world (Even the Senior Citizen demographic have become mega-users of various technologies and a powerful force, GG, didn’t take much interest in the likes of Facebook or Twitter, understood the practicalities of the mobile phone (even if she didn’t use one herself.)
These reflections are obviously very much from the Bracewell side of the family, and specifically mine own. It would be great to hear other stories regarding GG. Please feel free to add your own memories of GG.. It’s a lovely way to treasure her life.
Clearly it’s impossible to know what Grannie Griggs thought about on all these events and others which happened during her lifetime. But no doubt she led an incredibly full life. The legacy she leave behind are her children, Albert L. Griggs, Jr. and Margaret Bracewell; 10 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. All of whom carry in their hearts and minds, multiple lifetimes of memories of a mother, grandmother, loving friend and that of a beautiful lady full of grace and light.
Goodbye GG. It was an amazing privilege to have known you and have you in my life. I love you and hope you are dancing up a storm and catching up with all your family and friends in the afterlife.