by - January 08, 2012

The story I remember is that she had an uncle who thought Authula Maud Shannon was too big a name for a little baby girl. So he started calling her Toots, and it stuck. Way later in life she became my Granny whose bowl I used today while cooking. As usual that got me thinking of her, and as of late, it's usual that leads to writing. She would set this same bowl down for me when she needed my help to tear up the lettuce for the green salad, stir gently the pea salad, or whatever light duty cooking she could give me to help prepare “dinner,” which at her house was the noon meal. I have one of her aprons, some of her bowls, and thousands of memories sitting in her kitchen watching her cook. She was a good cook. But, long before she became a cook anyone would write about, long before I ever called her Granny, she had a whole other life. Surprisingly enough she wasn’t born the day I was. She wasn’t just a Grandma waiting for us grandkids.

She was born to Roy and Bobbie Hope Shannon in May of 1927. A beautiful little red head, with all the cliche connotations being a red head brings. By age three she was stricken with polio that would change the way she walked forever, but would not change her beauty or her feistiness. At age 10 she moved into a children’s hospital where she lived for almost a year being treated with numerous other children who had been afflicted. Her mother was very pregnant when at age 11,Toots left the hospital with an autograph book signed by all of her friends, to return to her family. Within a few weeks her mom Bobbie died while giving birth to another feisty baby girl, Cynthia, who would be raised by Bobbie’s sister Tom. (Yes, Tom was a girl). Bobbie also left behind her husband Roy, and children: Jim, Toots, Bob, Dudley, Patsy, and John Perry. It hurts to imagine the heartbreak my Granny must have felt when she lost her mother. But, the Shannon’s are a resilient bunch.

Aunt Billie, Bobbie and Tom's sister, said Granny was probably about 14 here. This is my favorite picture of her.
By 12, Toots had lived with a few different family members, including her beloved Aunt Maud. By 14, Toots was working as a nurse’s assistant in Henrietta, OK and living in a nurse boarding house, making a living for herself. She had some stories to tell. I’m sure as her granddaughter I didn’t get to hear all of them, but some of the highlights she would share. Like the time she slapped the face of the head nurse for lying about her. Toots was Irish, red-headed, grew up with brothers, was toughend by overcoming being crippled by polio, and she didn’t put up with no head-nurse mouthin’ about her. She would still get a look of satisfaction on her face when she retold the story even in her 70’s. She never did regret slapping that woman.

One day, around age 16, Toots and a girlfriend were walking down Main Street in Henrietta when a car pulled up with her friend’s boyfriend in the passenger seat. The driver of the car was Johnnie Cloyse Scully. What a moment that was. I don’t know how it all works, but a flat tire a mile back keeping Johnnie and his friend from Main Street that day, and I maybe wouldn’t be typing this today…something tells me he would have found her though. She’d seen him before. He was just recently back from Detroit where he and his father had gone to find work. Johnnie leaned out the window and said “Hey Red, I’m gonna marry you.” She said, “Oh, no you’re not,” and she “kept right on walking.” But, he did. 

Toots and John
John and Toots

When Toots married John she got another chance at having a mother in Bertha Sloan Scully. I’m sure Bobbie would have been pleased. Some of my Granny Toots’ bowls that I have, are actually Grandma Bert’s bowls. Bert taught Toots how to cook; how to keep house; how to be a Mrs. Scully. Toots referred to Bert as “Mom” when telling stories of their time in life together. There are recipes and child rearing secrets the two of them shared and perfected. Meatloaf. A pot of beans and cornbread. Biscuits and gravy. Fried chicken. Hot cakes. Dressing, that I will perfect someday, but certainly haven’t so far. Strawberry cake, blackberry cobbler, coconut cream pie. Some of the favorites from Toots’ table that probably came from Bertie’s. 


Young Toots
Young Bertie

John and Toots had three boys: Jim, Tim and Tom. Keep it simple. Toots was fiercely protective of her sons, and lived each day caring for them and making a home for her family. Their home, their achievements, their families are the fruits of her life. She enjoyed whatever we were into, and liked to hear all about it. We knew she loved us. You could read her thoughts on her face pretty easily.  It lit up everytime we slid open that sliding glass door and heard her yell "Come in here!"

It is a rare day that passes without some thought of her. Having a few of her dishes (including little juice glasses that used to be jars of jelly), her wedding ring, a few of her recipes, her laugh in my head, her mad look (usually reserved for dogs in the yard or George W. Bush) ingrained in my memory keeps her fresh in my thoughts, and I am thankful for it. She was funny. She was proud. She believed whatever “they” said on TV. Her favorite shows were Young and the Restless and Walker Texas Ranger. She said many times she wished she could have been a bank robber. She kind of meant it. (Her Grandma Hope’s house, or at least her barn, was a hideout for Pretty Boy Floyd who married into our family) Granny was a big Chicago Bulls fan. She liked watching Michael Jordan play. She held grudges. She worked hard. When we cleaned out her house there were 19 pads on her ironing board. I bet 30 years worth. Best ironing board ever. Her favorite nicknames for anyone and everyone were “Mr. Butts” and “George.” She liked to mix her salad dressings, and did not pay any attention to expiration dates on items in the refrigerator. The rims of her glasses were rose tinted, and she signed her name "Mrs. John C. Scully." When he passed away she wore his wedding ring on a necklace around her neck. She chewed Extra brand gum, and didn’t care if you saw her without her teeth at bedtime. Depending on the time of day she smelled like Jergen’s lotion, Oil of Olay, or White Shoulders perfume. She subscribed to Reader’s Digest. She pin rolled her hair her whole life. She had a fear of drowning that generally kept her out of the water, but didn’t keep her out of the baptismal when my cousin Shannon and I had the opportunity to stand by her as she decided the Lord was telling her it was time to be baptized. She knew Christ as her Savior, but wanted to honor him in that way as the bible directs before her church. She did not like to be in anyone’s attention, she did not like being in the water, but she loved the Lord and relied heavily on his promises; especially after Pa passed away. I’m sure I didn’t understand how difficult, or how precious that baptism day was to her. I’m so thankful to have shared it with her.

 All of us who loved her have our own stories of our special relationship with her. She and I used to go to Wal-Mart after she moved into a nursing home. She was in a wheelchair by then. As we wheeled around the store she would eat a McDonald’s vanilla ice cream cone and small order of French fries. She liked to dip her fries into the ice cream and comment on cute babies and ugly women as we gathered whatever was on her short list. Oh my word we had fun and laughed a lot. She was a good Granny, who had a whole life before she and I were friends. I'm grateful she shared some of the stories with me. Her young life was marked by a close family she loved, but also tragedies; her adult life was marked by the security and love in the home and family she had with Pa. They both made her tough, and they both made her sweet.

It is impossible to do her life justice in a few words, but hopefully they honor her…and hopefully, whatever I stir up in her dishes won't insult her legacy either. Today, it was Italian meatballs. She would have pronounced them as EYE-talian meatballs and would have certainly changed the recipe to her own liking or to whatever ingredients she had. Most the time that worked for her, but one year we got water chestnuts in our Thankgiving dressing. She was a good cook, but not everything worked every time…so, I guess that leaves a little room for grace for me. At least I have the right bowls for the job.

My Granny's Bowl
Authula Maud "Toots" Shannon Scully wearing Pa's ring.

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