Last week, you got to meet my Nanny, who is one of the inspirations for Jemma in Quilted by Christmas and who is still going strong at nearly 86 years of age. This week, it’s about my maternal grandmother. We called her Bopum. And true to the weirdness that is me, the p is silent. Hey, we spelled my baby language the best we could. I started calling her that as soon as I could talk and she carried that name til the day she died in 2009.
Her death came as a complete shock to us all. You want to talk a force of nature? There she was. Everyone who knew her thought she’d just charge right on and outlive the whole entire world. Somebody has to beat Methuselah’s record, right? In her seventies, she was hauling around and installing kitchen counter tops. At nearly 81, she kept up a two-acre yard, working up to 80 hours a week designing costumes for our local theater, and traveling wherever she could. Speaking of sewing… boy, could she ever. I once pointed at a jacket in a store window. Two weeks later, she handed me an identical one she’d made. My wedding dress? A thing of beauty sewn by my grandmother’s two hands.
My Bopum was my best friend. We talked nearly every single morning. She cheered me on in everything. She flew all over the country multiple times a year to visit. She made me caramel cake. Every. Single. Birthday. She always called to sing to me on my birthday. And one of my favorite memories is curling up in her lap as a child while she sang “Mairzy Doats” in her western North Carolina accent. (Up until a few years ago, I thought she made that song up.)
But opinionated? Yes, ma’am. And stubborn. Oh my, was she stubborn. And bound and determined to look her best at all times. (The conversation between Jemma and Taryn at the hospital? The one where Jemma wants her curling iron and her makeup? Yep. Had that one. More than once.) If you were not looking so awesome in your new dress, she’d tell you. Heaven forbid you go out looking bad and not know it. She loved you too much for that. If you’d put on a few pounds? Yep. She’d let you know. Always in love. Just like Jemma. We firmly believe she got to the Pearly Gates and told Jesus St. Peter needed to use a different polish on them. Speaking of clean? Dust didn’t reside in her house. It didn’t dare. I never saw her clean, yet there was never a dust bunny to be found. I wish I had that skill.
The rickety wooden ladder… the ankle-breaking fall from the attic… the Christmas baking… the drive for perfection… and the unconditional love of Jemma in Quilted by Christmas. All these things and more were my Bopum. And if you love Jemma in the book, boy, you’d have loved her too.