Dear Grandma Tootie

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The following is an essay I wrote for a Masters program I am in. I haven’t been able to shake memories of my grandmother since my wife and I toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum last month.

Dear Grandma Tootie,

I have to admit, things sure have changed. Truthfully, things were rapidly changing while your mind was disappearing so sharing them with you became very difficult. When you first moved into the nursing home I enjoyed stopping after work and seeing your happy surprise when I walked into your room. After you started losing your mind it was really painful to see you like that—so my visits were probably less often than they should have been.

With your house left unoccupied, your daughters let my wife and I move in to take care of it for you. I have so many fond memories as a child from your house so taking care of it was an honor for me. I remember all the nights you and I played Kings on the Corners and watched episodes of Dallas together. I especially remember your love for country music and Kenny Rogers. I loved listening to your old vinyl records of Kenny, Dolly, the Mandrell sisters, and Tex Ritter. I still have vivid memories of you yodeling when I least expected it and making me smile from ear-to-ear. Speaking of Kenny Rogers, how many times did you actually get front row seats to his concerts by camping over night outside of Wings Stadium?

Going to your house was always such a respite from the madness I was surrounded by. Being the youngest in a large family has many perks, but let’s be honest, I was typically a nuisance to most of my family. I never felt that way with you, though. You always made me feel so special. Like after I won Prince at the annual St. Joseph County Horse Show, your face would light up every time you saw me and you would say, “There’s my Prince!”

Once I was old enough to drive, I loved how you called requesting me to stop and help you around your house. It never dawned on me at the time that you didn’t really need help changing the batteries in your TV remote. Only after I was a little older and wiser did I realize you just wanted to spend some time with me. Remember how your phone’s answering machine always suspiciously messed up? I was so proud to be the voice people heard when they left a message at your house: “This is Tootie Samson and her Prince. Leave a message after the beep.

I could never understand why your 4 daughters rarely had good things to say about you when you weren’t around. One day I had enough and strongly disagreed with my mother while defending you. She snapped at me, “Travis, you have no idea what our childhood was like and what kind of mother she was!” That was when I first discovered you might not have been perfect.

Either way, you might not have been a great mother, but you were an amazing grandmother. Maybe becoming a grandparent means you have a chance to right the wrongs you made the first time around.

Just as all good things must come to an end; you passed away in 2004, my marriage dissolved, and your house was sold to another family.

And no one calls me Prince anymore.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. I still miss you.

All My Love,

Prince

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6 thoughts on “Dear Grandma Tootie

  1. Marilyn Bennett

    T.J. from aunt Mare ! I truly understanding your feelings of love for your Grandma Tootie. So difficult to explain the relationship we sisters had with our mom. As I have matured, with many years of counseling, have come to believe that mom had childhood baggage she didn’t know how to deal with?! She was so loving to some, and others she wasn’t! I am truly happy though that you were here PRINCE ! Because there is good and bad strengths in all of us! You and she found that together! And that puts a smile on my face!!!!!!

    • Thank you so much for your loving and understanding response Aunt Mare!!!! I completely agree with you about grandma, I witnessed her loving behavior firsthand but I also believe all the unloving behavior was there too. Speaking from a perspective of a little boy who idolized her, it was difficult to hear she wasn’t perfect until I was old enough to realize that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes and we all fall short with all of our loved ones. I believe there’s something to be said about righting our wrongs from our parenting through our grandchildren and grandma did that with me. As we age, we (hopefully) sweat the small stuff less, truly appreciate what’s important in life, and love more freely.

      I hope this story doesn’t come across as judgmental because every one of us could speak negatively about our parents if we choose to. The real grace and love is when we see our loved ones for who they are and love them anyway–warts, mistakes, and all the unloving behavior. As I age, I’m learning to see we are all doing the best we can. We take what we’ve learned from childhood–our wounds, our triumphs, our mistakes, and our shortcomings; and we do the absolute best that we can by putting one foot in front of the other each and every day. We all can choose to be bitter or better.

      I want you to know I view you four sisters as superheroes!!!! You all have endured different levels of unfortunate events that no ordinary human could endure. You’re strength and your beauty and your perseverance (each and every one of you) is something that deserves all the praise in the world!!! I honor your stories and I respect your perspectives on your upbringing. Someday I would love to hear it all firsthand from each one individually and write about it. All four of you are Superwoman to me!!!! I mean no disrespect to any of you by writing this piece. I can’t wait to see you soon!!!

      All my love!!

      Travis (TJ) 😉

  2. Marilyn Bennett

    2017. . Still brings tears to my eyes. Again so happy and pleased you and she had a special relationship! Love to you T.J.

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