Two Christmas trees, one only two feet tall, its aluminum limbs sparsely hung with pink bulbs, the other six feet tall and lavishly decorated with garland and ornaments.
The simple little tree belonged to Alta Richardson (1912-1987), "Grandmother" to my brother and me. She and my grandfather spent most of their adulthoods raising sheep and cattle in Hamilton county.
The eye-catching tree belonged to Irene Crow (1905-1983), better known as "Mema." She married a navy man and traveled a lot, no doubt meeting all kinds of people and making all kinds of friends.
For the last four or five years that both were alive, my grandmothers lived half a mile apart in Hico, but their lifestyles were so different they may as well have lived on separate continents.
Mema kept up with current trends and products. I can't remember a time when she didn't have a color television. She probably bought her first color set in the late sixties, when the trend was really catching on.
Grandmother, though, figured what wasn't broken didn't need fixing. She watched her old black and white television right through the seventies and didn't succumb to the color craze until her set broke down in the early eighties.
An old radio sat on Grandmother's kitchen counter, but I never saw her turn it on except when severe weather threatened. Once, she told me she liked Ray Price, but I don't remember her owning any records or listening to music. Maybe she thought I'd find her tastes too "old-timey," so she listened when I wasn't around.
Mema owned a variety of records, from Nat King Cole to Johnny Cash to Spanish guitar, and I'm pretty sure she was the only senior citizen in Hico who watched "Soul Train" on Saturday mornings. She'd roll her television into the kitchen doorway and dance while she cleaned or cooked.
Mema decorated her refrigerator door with little cotton-stuffed, wiggly-eyed, glittery-winged bugs she made herself, but the fridge's contents were a disappointing sight to a grandson in search of a sugar rush. Mema was always watching her weight. Instead of ice cream, she bought sherbet. And instead of Coke or Dr Pepper, pink cans of Tab Cola. My inner 10-year-old still shudders.
Grandmother's plain refrigerator contained more delectable treats. She showed me how to pour Dr Pepper over ice cream, and her banana pudding remains the undisputed champion of my food memories. Sometimes on my birthday, I'd get a choice between having a birthday cake or a batch of Grandmother's banana pudding. Cake never had a chance.
Both of my grandmothers played dominoes, but with differing degrees of intensity. To Grandmother, a game of dominoes was just a pleasant way to pass the time while visiting with a friend. I won most of our games, but I don't think she was really trying.
Mema kept her game sharp by playing against the other ladies in her church group, and dominoes was a sort of religion to her. When she tipped those gleaming white tiles out of their plastic case and they clattered onto her kitchen table, her grandmotherly smile would disappear and her brow would furrow in concentration. I was about 10 before I finally started winning some games against her, but I knew those victories were honest ones.
Each of my grandmothers passed some of her values on to me. Mema would be pleased that I share her competitive nature and that I enjoy broadening my horizons by sampling the literature, music, and other art forms of various cultures and time periods. Grandmother would be pleased that I share her appreciation of simple, old-timey things and that most of my favorite movies are in glorious black and white.
Two Christmas trees. Who's to say which was more beautiful?
Tommy Richardson lives in Erath county. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.