In a few short months, my sister Patty will become a grandmother. She’s as prepared as she is excited: she’s ready to fly to Atlanta to help my niece the first-time mother, she has cribs waiting in both her home and her beach house, and most importantly, she has her grandmother name picked out: GiGi. What it stands for is an inside family joke, but I think the name suits her well.
I can’t see Patty or any of my sisters choosing to be called Grandma, like we called my father’s mother Grandma Sue. And we have no name for my mother’s mother who died when my mother was eight years old, long before she became a grandmother. Her name was Mary Ernestine Bush Bergeron. Would we have called her Grandma Ernestine or Grandma Bergeron, like we called our grandfather? Or use Maw Maw or Mémère in the French Louisiana way? Since we never knew her, my sisters and I usually just speak of her as Momma’s mother.
The scant bits I knew about her came from my mother: she was from down the bayou in Grosse Tete; she had green eyes and was taller than my mother (5’4″); she was a schoolteacher just like my grandfather; and that she died of pneumonia at age 38, leaving my mother and her three brothers at 10, 8, 4 and 2 years old.
My mother kept a framed photo of her as a young woman on the wall. I’d study her with her bob haircut (short like mine) and imitate her in the mirror, tipping my head the same way. I’d ask, “Momma, do you think I look like her?” “Yes, I can see it,” she said. I suspect she would have said the same thing to any of my sisters.
One day when I was in my late teens, I found an old cardboard box in the attic labeled “Grosse Tete pictures.” Continue reading “The Grandmother With No Name”