My maternal grandmother would be 114 today.  Her birth name was Artiemisha Lucille Holt.  I never heard Artiemisha, which must have been after her grandmother, Artimissa. I found that doing genealogy or I would have always thought her name was just Artie.  She grew up on a farm in southern Oklahoma, near Durant, where she was one of a bunch of kids.  I knew Nat and Clint and Lilly and the others, but there were more half brothers and sisters from her father’s first marriage.  I don’t know much about her life before, but I think she was 18 when she married Benjamin Newton West, who was 21 years older than she.  Before my mother died, she told me that my grandfather came to pick my grandmother up to get married in a cart with a brown horse and a brown blanket.  Her parents handed her a bouquet and they left.  My grandfather’s best friend was with him and asked, “Where did you find this pretty little thing?”  I don’t know much about their marriage other than the precious story of my grandfather building a fire in the morning and then carrying my grandmother down to get warm.  They had three children, two boys and a girl, and he worked for his father at the West Wagon Yard in Ardmore and then for the telephone company, stringing lines, I believe.  I know my mother was born at her grandmother’s home in the country, so they must have lived there for awhile.  When he was fifty-one, he died of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease that could be easily cured today.  My grandmother was 29 years old with three small children, widowed in the depression.  My mother was five.

I guess my grandfather knew he was going to die because he left a small neighborhood grocery for my grandmother for income.  She ran that for years, supporting the kids through times when their gas was turned off because they didn’t have a nickel for the bill.  But my mother remembers they laughed a lot.  My mother was a serious and proud child, who loved her mother dearly and always recognized the debt she owed her.  My grandfather’s parents were among the founders of Ardmore, OK and had operated the West Wagon Yard.  They owned property and my grandmother did own her home, which was the only reason they survived, according to my mother.  By the time I was born, the grocery store was long gone and my grandmother’s income came from renting out rooms in her house and another property from my great-grandmother.

I was the oldest grandchild on that side of my family.  I was born several months early and my mother didn’t know much about babies, so my grandmother came and got me when I was a few weeks old.  I don’t think it warped my relationship with my mother, but I was always close to my grandmother.  She was a prissy little girl, so her brothers called her Dude, as did most of her close friends and family.  I called her Mommie Dude.  She was such an innocent in so many ways and so wise in others.  I don’t think she had more than a 9th grade education but she raised three very smart children, mostly on her own.  She packed parachutes at the Ardmore Air Base during the war.

My visits with Mommie Dude were among the most precious memories of my childhood.  I spent time at her house in Ardmore in the summers, swinging on the front porch swing for hours, picking pears off the trees in the back yard, rummaging through her drawer of photos or the garage full of stuff.  I chased horny toads and lightning bugs and walked to the ice plant for chips of ice and downtown to the dime store and to visit my uncle at the bank.  She finally got a car, but was never a good driver.  There was once an article in the Daily Ardmoreite with the news that Artie West had her grandchildren at the ice cream place.  I still have her cedar chest where she kept her fur coat and a hunk of her hair (don’t ask me why people kept their hair in those days).  It was all mysterious.  I played her records and she sang me old, old songs that I try to remember today.  Those songs were old folk songs and I’ve tried to find the history of some.  She made us “squares” when she knew we were coming.  “Squares” were koolaid, frozen in ice trays.  We would get a bowl of squares and eat it while swinging on the front porch.  It made the hot summers without air conditioning more bearable and fun.  There are so many other stories to write about my times with her…and I will.

Mommie Dude always wrote me and I have her letters somewhere in my garage, boxed with letters from my parents and grandparents.  Often she would put in a dollar, telling me to go get a Pepsi.  A dollar was a lot to her.  I loved getting those in the mail, even through college.  I have a photo of my grandmother with my three girls, holding 9 month old Kerry as they all stood on her porch in Ardmore.  Shortly after that, she was crippled with arthritis, almost overnight, and had to move to a nursing home.  My mother finally brought her to Tulsa, where she lived in pain until her death.  I was at the nursing home the night she died and sat beside her, singing the old songs that I hold so dear.  This sweet woman loved me so unconditionally all my life and taught me so many lessons without even knowing it.  Today, I’m thinking of her with love in my heart and a smile on my face.