Mom Grey on my mind

Everyone in the family called her Mom. She was my father’s father’s mother, my great grandmother, and her time overlapped mine by a handful of years. Filet-O-Fish sandwiches will always make me think of her.

She was born in the West Virginia hills at a time when indoor plumbing wasn’t yet widely available. She is said to have been determined, ornery even. Her pluck served her well; she owned half the small town in which my father was born, including the local tavern. My father slept in a room above the tavern; Mom Grey did most of the work raising him.

Much of the family moved to South Bend in the 1950s looking for manufacturing and construction work. (Good thing, or my father would never have met my mother.) Mom Grey moved north at some point too, and by the time I came along she had a house on a narrow street near downtown. We visited most Sunday afternoons and I loved to go. She always had Hershey bars in the refrigerator just for my brother and me. We’d sit on her wooden front porch, which stretched across the front of the house, and play with a box of empty aerosol cans she inexplicably kept in a cardboard box. Or we’d get the rag off the kitchen sink and try to rub the age spots off her legs, which I can’t imagine now why she tolerated!

She had a very old TV, and behind this panel right at kid height were about a million knobs. I was obsessively drawn to knobs and buttons, and so when nobody was looking I’d pull off the panel and twist them. This almost certainly caused her to utter choice words when she settled in that night to watch Gunsmoke.

My brother and I were fascinated with a conch shell she used to prop open a door. The first time one of us reached for it, Dad quickly intervened as it had been strictly off limits to him as a boy. But Mom Grey would have none of it. “You let those boys play with that shell!” Dad stood down. When the family matriarch spoke, everyone fell into line.

Whenever our stay slipped into the dinner hour Dad would drive over to McDonald’s to buy us all Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, since Mom Grey enjoyed them. It was a testament to Dad’s devotion to his grandmother, for Dad was tight with his money and his wallet would not open so easily for anyone else.

Filet-O-Fish Sundays lasted only so many years, though, as Mom Grey passed on when I was six.

McDonald’s is next door to the hotel where my church has been meeting, and more Sundays than not I hit the drive through after service. Every Filet-O-Fish I’ve eaten has brought back these pleasant memories of Mom Grey.

If you’re wondering about the patch over my eye in the photo above, here’s the story behind it.


11 responses to “Mom Grey on my mind”

  1. vanilla Avatar

    Jim, you are blessed with wonderful memories of family. Except for coffee, there isn’t anything other than fish filet on McD’s menu I’d stop for.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I adore the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I eat them in moderation, however, because each one shaves a month off my life.

  2. Dani Avatar

    Jim, thank you for sharing. I will no longer refer to your mother as Mom Grey for that title shall remain with it’s rightful owner. Btw, the above picture leaves me with the urge to pinch your brother’s cheeks though they are not so chubby now.

    1. Jim Avatar

      You may feel like pinching his cheeks, but trust me, don’t try it!

      1. Dani Avatar

        Oh, I know better. The consequences would be as detrimental as if I messed up his hair!

  3. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    I love well-brushed memories like that, especially ones with quirky touchstones like… a Filet-O-Fish! A reasonably inexpensive way to take yourself back (well, it beats a $3000 trip back to ‘the old country’ or something). :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Each #13 (Filet-O-Fish) value meal cost me just $5.11!

  4. Jim's Brother Avatar
    Jim’s Brother

    Mom Grey’s was the only staircase I ever encountered where I could bounce down a flight on my backside in rhythm (kind of like a human slinky, without going end over end). I never found another staircase with the right properties–never even close–and never replicated the feat elsewhere, thinking I’d somehow lost the knack. Looking back now, I think it was probably more a function of my height and weight and leg length or something. The physics of it boggle the mind, but it was easy at the time.

    I remember trying to eradicate her age spots, too. I always thought that I was rubbing so hard that it must certainly hurt, but was so focused on the task and my inability to complete it that I’d lose track of the effort. When one of my parents (inevitably) spoke up to call off the effort, I’d suddenly come back to reality and look up at her in a bit of fear that she was upset with the rigor, but she always smiled like she thought it was funny, like it didn’t even hurt. Adults are so weird.

    I have one additional memory to mention: Mom Grey’s was the first place I had a Hershey bar with almonds. Whole nuts in a chocolate bar? Madness! Magics!

    Thanks for the post, Jim.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I don’t remember ever being on her staircase. But you mentioning your trips down it brings a faint memory, the kind you can’t tell whether it’s a memory or whether your story created a new image in my mind. And while I preferred the non-almonded Hershey bars, something about the almond bars she had made me feel more grown up somehow.

  5. 40 is the new 13 Avatar

    What sweet memories. Sad that Mom Grey passed away when you were still young.

    My Grandma Katz… of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn (and formerly Minsk)… also happened to love Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. She’d walk a couple blocks to get one from the McDonald’s near the corner of Brighton 7th.

    They always make me think of my Grandma, too.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m glad I got to know Mom Grey at all. My sons got to know none of their great-grandmothers and I think they’re the poorer for it.

      I wonder if maybe the Filet-O-Fish just really caught on with women of a certain generation!

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