Minnie Grindstaff: Quiet Strength

If my great-grandmother Grindstaff were still alive, she probably would be a little hesitant if I asked to write a story about her. She’d probably just softly smile and nod. But, Minnie Grindstaff is a story that needs to be told. I, her great-granddaughter, will try to do her justice.

Minnie Keller was born on January 27, 1916 to William T. and Mary Jane Hall Keller, in the Old Piney/Six Mile Community. She was one of twelve kids! Although, her oldest brother died before she was born; and he was exactly 20 years older than her. She had two other sisters die young, too. I can’t imagine the heartbreak for the family. Times were tough.

Minnie grew up helping her parents and siblings work hard. They all helped take care of each other. On washday, Minnie and her sister would stay home from school in the mornings to help their mother. After lunch, they went to school for the rest of the day. It was about a two mile walk to school from her home. As a child, I imagine Minnie discovered the importance of hard work and family.

In 1933, at seventeen years old, Minnie married a man named Ben Grindstaff. Ben and Minnie made a great team. They had three children, Juanita, Laura, and R.L. I visited my Aunt Juanita one morning, and we talked for two hours about what wonderful parents Ben and Minnie were. Juanita recalls that her mother never would raise her voice to yell at her children or husband. She always had a hot breakfast, lunch, and hot dinner ready for her family. After school, she always had a snack, like bran muffins, ready for her kids. I asked Juanita what bothered her mother. “We would get in the most trouble if we came home wet and muddy. Mama was fussy about our clothes getting muddy.”

Wash day was on Monday. The children helped her out, each having their own jobs. Minnie would wash, dry, and then iron EVERYTHING, even the pillowcases, handkerchiefs, and sheets!

Minnie always made sure her dishes were cleaned up and the beds were made in the mornings before she would go outside to work. She made sure the kids were up at a decent time, because the beds had to be made!

My grandmother Grindstaff was an amazing woman. She loved to trout fish; rolling up her pants and wading in the creek. She loved taking off in the woods with her husband to shoot squirrels. She was just as good shot as her husband was. She could shoot a walnut off a tree just like Ben. I asked Juanita if her Mama was a better shot than Daddy. “I wouldn’t say she was better…I can’t say that because Daddy’s watching me!” But the bright look in Juanita’s eyes told me that she knew her mama was better with a gun.

Grandmother liked to hear motorcycles, especially the sound they make when they change gears. She always thought it would be fun to ride one, but she never did. She never did learn to drive a car, either.

She loved baseball. She would get softball games going during Bible school time. “She loved playing softball during bible school. We’d have bases set up under a persimmon tree in the big yard of the church,” my Grandma told me. She liked to play and be outside. “Mama always played with us,” my aunt remembered. “She wasn’t your typical mother or grandmother. But she was the best mother and grandmother.”

Just like a clean sink, this was always a common scene at the Grindstaff home: Minnie riding on the fender of Ben’s tractor– heading toward the garden. He’d pull it out of the barn, and she’d hop on the fender. They’d come back a few hours later, her britches legs rolled up with garden dirt all over her, and a basket full of vegetables—still riding on the fender.

She canned, preserved, and cooked her own garden produce. Her cellar had shelves full of beautiful cans full of food. Just like any other family, they raised their own meat, too. They had a smokehouse to hang ham and store sausage. She would can sausage, but also hang it in a cotton sleeve in the smokehouse.

Minnie learned a lot of her “old timey” skills from her mother-in-law, Ida Gregory Grindstaff McDonald, who was raised in Cades Cove. “Ma” as she was called, taught Minnie many things, like making soap. She passed on many of her canning recipes to Minnie. They were neighbors, so I can just imagine a young Minnie going over to her mother-in-law’s place to ask for a recipe or advice.

Minnie was a beautiful woman. She wasn’t fancy, but she was very pretty. She always smiled with her eyes and it lit up her whole face.

She loved her husband and children more than anything. She took care of them all. I consider all the hard work she did daily…and my goodness, I fall way short of doing all that she did. Her family adored her. The grandchildren raved about her apple butter and canned peaches. When I was little, I was convinced no other apple butter could ever be as good as hers. Grandmother Grindstaff’s stack cake is forever believed to be the standard of which all other stack cakes are judged.

Ben and Minnie were both active at their church, Old Piney Baptist. They were genuine people; they loved Jesus. Their lives proved it.

I think it is a testament to how children are raised when they all agree to take care of their aging parents. Juanita, Laura (my grandma), and R.L all took turns caring for their parents when they were sick and needed help.

Ben, my granddaddy, got sick in 2000. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, and without any treatment, went downhill fairly quickly. I remember watching him get frailer and frailer each week. He went to be with the Lord peacefully at home surrounded by his beloved family. I remember Grandmother softly touching his hand and straightening his sleeve before they closed his casket at the funeral. She quietly wiped her tears and sat back down with her children.

Minnie lived by herself for only a while, until she was faced with her own health problems. First, she contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite—from working in brush outside with her daughter. This disease was hard on her. She then faced issues with her stomach and underwent surgery. The last few years of her life, her children took care of her at her own home.

I am amazed at the love her children had for her, because they knew she would be happy at home. They didn’t want her to be cared for by anyone else. She was very much a homebody. It’s not that she wasn’t independent—she just wanted to be home amongst her own family.

I have a few of her handmade quilts and some of her personal things which I hold very dear. I loved visiting her and just sitting in her presence. She never said much, but I didn’t either. She would sit in her chair, rocking back and forth, watching the Atlanta Braves play baseball. Her Bible and her Sunday School book was always by her side on the couch. Looking back, I wish I could tell her how much I admired her and how much her life has influenced mine.

My cousins and I always held her up as a superwoman and I think we had good reason! Her memory is still very much alive in every one of us. All of her family speaks of her often. It’s rare to get through a visit with my Grandma Laura, that Grandmother isn’t mentioned. And when Grandmother or Granddaddy is mentioned, there are usually happy tears involved.

My uncle, a pastor, spoke at Grandmother’s funeral. I have Proverbs 31 marked in my Bible from his tribute to her. It left an everlasting imprint on my heart. Grandmother embodied the Proverbs 31 woman in every way. Her life was verse by verse. Whether she realized it or not, I don’t know. But if there ever was a “Proverbs 31 woman”, it was her. “She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:27-28. Every day of my life, I’m inspired by Grandmother Minnie’s quiet strength.

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