As evidenced by old photographs, my maternal grandmother was once a very handsome woman in her youth. By the time I came along, she was a heavy set woman with a care worn face who kept her grey hair pulled into a tight bun on the back of her head.
She only attended school for three years, but this did not prevent her from becoming a wealthy woman way back when a dollar was still a dollar.
I can not remember ever seeing her dressed up. She wore nondescript inexpensive cotton dresses from a now defunct department store and carried a small plastic pop-open coin purse clutched in her hand – She never carried a handbag.
She had lived through the Great Depression and getting her to part with her money was not an easy task. Even so, I could sometimes talk her into giving me a few coins to buy a soda. On these rare occasions, she would root around in her coin purse and begrudgingly give me a few coins. These coins came with a painful look on her face as if she was giving me one or two of her vital internal organs.
During these times, it was common for small towns in south Georgia to stop and fine both real and alleged speeders. These places were called “speed traps.”
The most notoriously in our little part of the world was a small pulpwood town named Ludowici which we pronounced “lew-dah-witch-chee.”
An outraged and embarrassed Lester Maddox, a former governor of Georgia, posted warning signs on the narrow two-lane road going into and out of this town. These signs did not stop the practice of fining the few motorist who did pass through.
On one lazy summer day, my grandmother was stopped for allegedly speeding in Ludowici.
For anyone familiar with the reality of the situation, the idea of her speeding was preposterous. She drove a pre-WW2 sedan with faded black paint and huge fenders. The car could not go faster than the speed limit even if it had it been shot out of a cannon.
When the arresting officer asked her to pay a fine, she broke down into tears and explained she was a poor widow woman with three children. She pleaded with the officer to let her go and told him she had no money.
The unsympathetic officer led her back to the station where she was to be held until someone paid her fine. On the way to the police station, she hid her money under the front seat in her car.
At the police station, my grandmother was threatened, yelled at and put in a cell. As the afternoon wore on, she produced more tears and made impassioned pleas for leniency, mercy and charity.
She insisted she simply could not pay a traffic fine and wept openly as she explained she did not even have enough money to buy the gasoline she needed to get back to her children in nearby Brunswick. As she wiped away tears, she told the police her children would be worried and certainly go without supper if she was not released and allowed to continue on her way.
Hours later and just before dark, the police finally let my grandmother go without paying a fine. They may have even given her a little money to help pay for the gasoline needed to make her trip home.
As a child, I enjoyed hearing stories about this hardy, self-sufficient and waggish old woman who was as clever as a fox and tight with her money. I only hope some of her DNA was passed on to me.
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