No Heart More Filled With Love – Mildred Helen Brodnax Kinnaird
My Granny was probably the kindest, most open-hearted person I’ve ever met in my life. She had such warmth and generosity of
spirit that it just spilled over into the people around her, making their lives better and happier for knowing her. With her birthday and Mother’s Day both just around the corner, I always find myself thinking of her a lot at this time of year, especially when I pass a garden bursting with spring flowers.
Mildred was born deep in cotton country in northern Louisiana in May of 1919. She lost her father when she was very young, at a time when there weren’t many ways for a widowed mother to make money. She was the middle child of the five her mother raised on meager income from taking in washing. There was never much money to go around, and by the time she was 16 her mother was so ill that Mildred had to leave school to care for her siblings and to work in a laundry on the mangler, which was backbreaking and sometimes dangerous work. Despite this, she was happy, and remembers her childhood fondly.
She and my Papa, Julian Kinnaird, married in 1937. They had five surviving children together, of which my mother was the youngest. In a time when families are more mobile than ever and half of all marriages end in divorced, I’ve always been proud of how tightly my mother’s large family is bound together, and Granny was the glue. No one would have dreamed of missing a holiday dinner, no matter how far we had to drive. None of us wanted to make Granny sad, or to miss out on her amazing cooking. There were few things in my childhood that ever made me so excited as that first glimpse of Granny’s porch lights from the highway after the long drive up for a visit. We would spend long stretches of summer days climbing trees and playing hide and seek in her gardens, which were so extensive and beautiful that complete strangers would pull off the highway to knock on her door and ask if they could stop in her yard and enjoy her flowers.
No matter what life threw at her, Granny never lost her appreciation for life. A glass of iced tea on a beautiful day, the gift of a half-crushed wildflower from a granddaughter – these simple pleasures would light her up with happiness. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone else who enjoyed life as much as she did, even when things were tough. Even as she nursed Papa through Alzheimer, and even through his death in 2002, I never once heard her voice a complaint. She had ups and downs, like anyone, but the moment a child walked into the room all cares were forgotten in favor of hugs and play, storytime and careful, respectful conversation. No matter what happened in my life, for as long as I had my Granny, I knew that someone loved me immensely, that my life and my happiness mattered, and that someone was proud of me. That’s the best gift anyone can ever give a child, and I will never stop being grateful for her love and unwavering support.
Nothing made Granny happier than her family – except maybe Christmas (though of course the two went hand in hand). We would decorate everything on her property – the house, the trees, the bushes, the front lawn – everything was covered in lights and big handmade wooden decorations. Inside was always just as festive; as soon as Thanksgiving dinner was over, before the dishes were even done, we would open up dozens of little hiding spaces throughout the house and swap every lamp, every candle, every flower arrangement, every dish towel, every blanket with a Christmas version, every candy dish and pot-holder. There wasn’t an inch of her home or yard that wasn’t saturated with holiday cheer. We would blow out the power over and over until we got the balance of extension-cords-per-socket worked out just right.
Granny left us in 2010 after a long life well lived and was reunited in burial with her husband. During her life, it was very important to her to know that the graves of her lost loved ones were well cared for, and that they were decorated for holidays and birthdays. Her children and grandchildren pay it forward by visiting her grave regularly to make sure it always looks its best – especially for the holidays.