With each new blog, I am reminded of my loved ones and just how big a piece of my heart they hold. They are with me, always. The smallest things make me think of them and for that I am thankful. I am a terrible speller and my proficiency at grammar is more than lacking. Spell Check and my mother helped me through many a book report, college paper, business plan, menu, and now this blog, but the one who would enjoy proofing my blog the most left us almost two years ago. She would have relished marking these paragraphs with bold red ink in her cursive script, not out of criticism but out of love for me and the English language.
My grandmother, Betty Strickland Cramer, AKA Bett Bett, will always be one of my favorite people. She was petite in stature; her feet matched her tiny frame. They were the definition of dainty, a size 6 quad. Shoes and jewelry were her weakness. She had the former and latter to match every outfit. She was prissy and sassy and she made no apologies. She could hold a grudge indefinitely but if she loved you, she would fight for you until the end.
She taught English at Jenkins County High School for almost thirty years, so at one time or another, she taught someone related to every person in Jenkins County. She did not tolerate the word “ain’t” or “unruliness.” She was beyond proud of the fact she had paddled several of the JCHS boys’ basketball team. If I had a penny for every time she said “I taught his/her father, mother, aunt, uncle, cousin,” I could retire at the age of 32!
She had a quick wit that wavered on the verge of sarcasm but was never mean. Her delivery was cool with a hint of indifference. My mother was often the subject of these little “zings,” as we called them. These episodes offered us endless entertainment at Mom’s expense. Bett Bett and Mother were closer than close. Not some silly movie screen Mommy, Daughter mush but the real-life kind. My mother practically doted on her, and we all knew their love ran deep.
Bett Bett was my number one biggest fan. She did not think I was perfect or too precious to receive a reprimand. We were too much alike to never butt heads. A pop on the thigh in the Bi Lo parking lot after our bi-annual dentist appointment is still etched in my memory to prove this fact, but let someone else mess with me….. I would call my mother squalling over one of life’s injustices. She ever played the devil’s advocate and always advised me to “be the bigger person”. I would immediately hang up and speed-dial Bett Bett. She would commiserate. She would threaten to call their mother, call the teacher, or write a seething Letter to the Editor to The Millen News to right the wrong. It would be all “their” fault and none of mine.
My family lived 17 miles from town so most afternoons we ended up at Bett Bett’s house, a convenient in-town squatting spot until our next engagement: t-ball, softball, cheerleading, Bible school, church, dance, or just to hang out. Her house was like a second home. We were always welcome, but there were understood limitations to her hospitality. One did not interrupt The Young and the Restless. EVER. If you wanted something to eat other than Lance Peanut Butter Crackers, Raisin Bran, or Crystal Light lemonade, you should bring it with you. Plundering was also a no no. Ditto to eating on the carpet. Even so, we loved going to Bett Bett’s. She never bothered us and let us watch cable cartoon channels on her 10-inchhbedroom TV. That was the life.
Bett Bett was a diehard Braves fan. The kind of rabid fan, who if out of pocket during the actual game, recorded the game on VHS to be watched later. She talked to the TV as if the entire team and coaches were a part of her 9th grade English class at Jenkins County High School. She admonished a missed catch, walk, or bad call and she likewise commended a 3-2-1 double play, a sliding catch in center field, and pick-off by a quick handed pitcher. Our bond was solidified by our love for the Bravos. We tomahawk chopped our way through the 90’s with the passion only an overweight, awkward preteen and a retired widow in her late sixties could muster. We didn’t miss a game, and if we did, the next day we discussed in detail the finesse of the great catch made by David Justice, the stand-up homer by Chipper Jones, or the spectacle of a Bobby Cox tirade that ultimately got him thrown out of the game. We had our favorites. Greg Maddox was always a topic of conversation. He was our favorite pitcher with his cool demeanor, Clark Kent glasses, and a touch of endearing goofiness. Fred McGriff, the “Crime Dog,” was as solid as they come. A commanding presence on first, he always kept us on the edge of our seats waiting for his next homer and it was hard not to love Lemke with his boyish good looks and kind eyes. The Braves 1995 World Series win was the culmination of our years of fandom. It was our time and our moment. After the ultimate win, I lost interest and ventured into my teenage years, but every time I flip through the channels and see our boys at bat, I can’t help but smile.
Bett Bett’s blog took weeks to write. It’s still not perfect and will never do her unique personality justice. I asked my mother, “How do you sum up Bett Bett in just a few paragraphs?” Well, you just don’t. I don’t have to try because at the most random moments I think of her. The other day I heard Simon and Garfunkel and I was transported to the back seat of her Cutlass station wagon with the wood grain side paneling belting out Bridge over Troubled Water. Each time I have to wait at Herndon for the train to cross the tracks I hear her say “Trains a camin’” to which I would respond “How you knew?” We would always laugh when she
completed our banter with “I heard it blew!” I caught myself chewing gum in church a few Sundays ago and saw her pursed lips because I “looked like an old billy goat chewing his cud”. I cringe every time I hear someone end a sentence with a preposition or perpetuate any other atrocity to the English language. As I walk by the hearth in my living room, I catch a glimpse of the little white milking stool I perched on at the foot of her recliner as we shelled peas or pealed peaches. Her cast iron skillet sits seasoned in my cabinet and ready to fry up the prettiest mess of pale white shrimp you can imagine. Her fried shrimp were a treat. The recipe below is a close as I could get!
Bett Bett’s Fried Shrimp
1 lb of Shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1 c Whole Milk
2 c Plain Flour
1 c Self-Rising Flour
1 Tsp Salt
4-6 cups Wesson Oil
Cast Iron Skillet
Heat oil to 350 degrees in Cast Iron Skillet. You must use a cast iron skillet! These little delicacies just don’t taste the same fried in another vessel, and be sure to use fresh grease. These shrimp are beautiful with the most pale breading.
Beat eggs in a bowl large enough to hold 1 lb of shrimp. Add milk to egg and mix well. Add your shrimp to egg and milk mixture. Make sure all shrimp are coated well.
Mix plain flour, self-rising flour, and salt in a large bowl. Take shrimp out of egg/milk mixture a few at a time and coat with flour.
Drop into hot grease and cook until a very light golden brown.
Serve piping hot with tartar sauce. Bett Bett preferred ketchup much to my Mother’s dismay!
Enjoy them as much as we did and honor the legacy of Bett Bett. I try to everyday.