Bold and Beautiful
Class of 2014
(3/2014) The picture has sat in our house my entire life. A modest wooden frame borders the faded 3x5. A scruffy man smiles up at the camera as it clicks, capturing the moment for future reflection. His hair has grayed and thinned since then, but itís still my grandfather. The delicate arms encircling his shoulders belong to a serene, ivory-skinned
face framed with short dark hair. Her red blouse stands out against an otherwise white background. Though she isnít smiling, you know sheís happy; itís etched in her eyes, the lovely eyes of my Grandma Nicki.
I have no personal memories of my grandmother, only secondhand stories. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet her since she passed away before I was born, so naturally, I have always been curious about the woman in the picture frame. I had always been tentative about bringing the topic up for fear of upsetting my mother. Now, 21 years later,
this article finally provided me with the platform to ask some questions, fleshing out the personality of the lovely lady in the red sweater.
"She was a treat," said my father as he stood in the kitchen sipping coffee. "You would have gotten along famously."
In the adjoining living room, I sat across from my mother who was already tearing up at the thought of Grandma Nicki.
"She was just always happy. Everyone loved her," Mom dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, "She had tons of friends." There was a pause, a moment of tearful reflection, and then the memories began making their way past my momís lips.
"Probably the goofiest thing was, she was going downstairs because thatís where the laundry room was, and I hear this thump. I just look over the railing, and she fell down the stairs, only a couple of them, and sheís just lying at the bottom of the stairs," Mom spreads her arms out, demonstrating the spread eagle position my grandmother had taken, "I
ask if sheís okay and sheís like, ĎIím so tired,í and keeps lying there!"
With a smile as sweet as the candy she loved to eat, Grandma Nicki was an affectionate, giving woman.
"She was always really active in all the stuff [my sister] Karen and I wanted to do," said Mom. From majorettes to Scrabble and card games, Grandma Nicki just liked to sit around and be together with her two little girls. Whenever one of the girls would get mad, my grandma knew the cure was a simple song: "Sherry is mad and I am glad Ďcause I know what
will please her. A bottle of ink to make her stink and ten little skunks to squeeze her."
She also showed affection through elaborate pet names. "She used to call me Sherry-Annie-Pickie-Panny," laughed my mom, and my aunt was lovingly called Karen-Michellie-Pasteboard-Belly. "Just because it rhymed I guess," mom speculated, "Because I donít know what either of them means."
Grandma was a classy lady. She dressed modestly, rarely wearing much more jewelry than her simple wedding band. She read housekeeping magazines and stayed up on the trends: ceramics, crochet, and macramť. She baked a delicious dessert called Congo Squares, collected music boxes, and
planted marigolds. Donít let this domestic disguise fool you, however. Underneath it all was a touch of a wild streak.
"She was a rock Ďní roller," said my dad.
"Every Saturday morning, I would get woken up to the Everly Brothers," my mother chimed in. She also had what were then current albums including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Ron Stewart, and the Beatles. "She would play them while cleaning the house."
She also enjoyed riding my grandfatherís motorcycle, or if it snowed, she opted for a snow mobile. These were mere surrogates, however, for her most exciting endeavor of all, trick-horseback riding.
Though she didnít ride when my mom knew her, Grandma Nicki grew up riding for her fatherís rodeo. We were lucky enough to happen upon a letter she wrote outlining some of her experiences with the rodeo. Though she had been riding since she was nine, she didnít start trick-riding until she was 12. Under the tutelage of Ralph Clark, a former horse
trainer for the Ringling Brothers, she learned how to twist and stand and ride a horse in nerve-racking, breath-taking ways. Clark also taught her the art of trick roping, a devilishly tricky skill, yet Grandma could twirl a 20-foot loop around her, and we have an old picture to prove it.
My young grandmotherís favorite part of the rodeo was what she calls "the worldís best looking males, the happy-go-lucky race of guys known as the American cowboy." Every summer her family packed up their little blue trailer and travelled the road putting on rodeo performances. During the show season of her fourteenth year, the rodeo spent five weeks
in Florida with the family of Joe Flores, the rodeoís manager. Grandma practiced and performed and even bought a new horse named Jackie, but what she remembers the most about that summer is a boy named Butch MacMillan.
On May 9 that year, she and Butch started "going steady." In September, Butch joined the army, and grandma waited six months for him. When Butch went on a 15-day leave, they planned to run away together and elope.
"After a while I came to realize our parents trusted in us and our judgment," she wrote in her letter, "We were too young to take such a big step." She and Butch decided to wait a little longer, at least until she was out of high school and her aspiring modeling career had kicked off in New York. "We decided to wait and be the sensible, levelheaded
kids our families think we are."
I donít know what ever happened to Butch MacMillan or grandmaís modeling career, but she ended up marrying Franklin Pickett, Jr., having two beautiful daughters, Karen Michelle and Sheryl Ann, and living out her days right here in Maryland.
Now, Grandma Nicki led an exciting life, but the very first story I ever heard about her will always be one of my favorites. See, Grandmaís given name was not Nicki but Naomi Irene, and she hated it. Grandma hated it so much, in fact, that she made my mother promise to never name a daughter after her. My mother, obviously, found a loophole and named me
Nicole so that I could take the nickname Nicki. However, I did not make such a promise. Letís just say that the name is going to stay within the family. What Grandma doesnít know wonít hurt her, right?
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