Yesterday's Magazette

11 – Southern Contentment

Southern Contentment

By Glenda Barrett

Growing up in the mountains of North Georgia, I was fortunate to live near my grandparents, whom we affectionately called, “Mamaw and Papaw.” We lived so close I could ride my bicycle to their house anytime I felt like popping in for a visit. My grandfather was a horse trader, and he was usually gone during the day, but I could count on finding Mamaw at home. She always seemed glad to see me.


One of the things I liked best about Mamaw was her ability to tell a fine story. I would not be there long at all, until I’d ask her the same question I had asked many times before, “Mamaw, do you know any good stories?” She’d reach over on a coffee table, pick up a small can of Dental Sweet Snuff, open it, and carefully dip a small wooden spoon down in the can, fill it full of snuff and then place it gently in her lower lip. Immediately, a look of contentment and satisfaction spread across her face, and she’d launch into a wonderful story.

As Mamaw got up in her late eighties, she developed problems with her heart. Her doctor referred her to a hospital in Atlanta. Her only daughter, Midge, accompanied her. After a thorough examination, the doctors determined that she needed surgery but because of her age did not advise it. She was put in a private room for a couple of days.

One nurse happened to walk into Mamaw’s room at the wrong time. Mamaw had just put in a dip of snuff, and spilled part of it on the bed. The nurse, who was in her early twenties, took one look at Mamaw and quickly admonished her for her tobacco use. “Mrs. Foster, you know tobacco is not good for your heart, don’t you?”

Mamaw was a bit embarrassed, but being an easy-going lady she did not argue with authority. Midge overheard the conversation and quickly fell upon a plan. When the nurse left the room, and Mamaw’s head was turned, Midge slipped the can of snuff out of sight and hid it in the closet. She wanted to do what was best for her mother.

In an hour or so, Mamaw noticed her snuff was missing. She couldn’t find it anywhere, so she said, “Midge, do you know what went with my snuff?”

Midge mumbled something, hoping to deter any more questions. Mamaw, always a perceptive woman, caught on quickly. She tried another approach. “Midge, what have you done with my snuff?”

Midge replied, “Momma, the nurse plainly told you that snuff is not good for you. You know that you have heart trouble.”

Never easily ruffled, Mamaw became agitated. “I said to give me my snuff, and I mean it! I am nearing ninety-years-old and I have used snuff since I was fourteen. I’m not about to stop now. I’ll use it as long as I live!”

About this time, the nurse walked into the room and put the blood pressure cuff on Mamaw’s arm. “We need to check your blood pressure, Mrs. Foster.” As she pumped up the cuff, a worried look crossed her face. “Your pressure is much higher than when you first came in. Just lie still for a little while, and I’ll be back to check it again.”

The nurse barely got out the door before Mamaw resumed her begging. She could see she was getting nowhere with Midge, so she tried again. “Midge, please give me back my snuff. You know I’m getting old and I may not be around much longer. At least let me have a little comfort and enjoyment in my last days.”

At this request, Mamaw looked so pitiful that Midge began to weaken. She went to the closet, got the snuff out of the suitcase, and handed it to Mamaw. Immediately, Mamaw took off the lid, filled the tiny spoon to the brim, and put it in her mouth. At once, she began to relax.

She barely had time to wipe her mouth and put the can away before the nurse entered the room.  After checking Mamaw’s blood pressure twice, the nurse, with a puzzled look, said, “That’s strange, your blood pressure is completely normal now.”

Mamaw smiled sweetly, not saying a word so as not to be caught a second time in one day. The next day, Mamaw was released and returned to her home. Since Pappaw was no longer living at this time, I decided to spend the night with her so she wouldn’t be alone. In her bedroom, she had two beds turned at opposite ends to each other, each in a different corner. I slept in one of them so I could check on her during the night. I drifted off to sleep, but in the middle of the night I was jarred awake by a strange clanging noise.

I raised up in bed to see if Mamaw was all right. As the moonlight felt on her shoulders, I saw her propped on two pillows. She was opening her can of Dental Sweet Snuff.

Over the years I’ve heard her say more than once, “I know snuff is against my health, and I know I’d be better off without it.” As far as I know, she never made an attempt to stop, and I didn’t scold her for it. It seemed to me that was the only bad habit she had.

Mamaw lived to the ripe old age of ninety-one. Before she died she stayed a couple of years in the nursing home. I remember vividly one of our visits. She usually had a joke for me, so we laughed and talked as usual. When it was time for me to leave, I asked,  “Mamaw, is there anything you want or need?”

She wrinkled her brows and thought for a minute before saying, “Yes, I believe there is. I think I’m about out of snuff. I only have two cans left. Would you mind picking me up a few cans.”

I promised her I would, but I couldn’t help smiling as I walked out of the nursing home.

*Southern Contentment was published previously in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

Vol. 36 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2009


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