Tuesday, August 26, 1997
A conspiracy of women

The Cincinnati Enquirer

They call her Granmuddy. It is, I assure you, a term of endearment.

Her name is Amanda McGhee, and she turned 72 this month. She is arthritic and diabetic, bent a little by hard work. After she was widowed, sometimes she worked two or three jobs to provide for her three children. Hard jobs. Cleaning other people's houses, taking care of other people's kids. Sometimes she earned a little extra money by serving at parties.

You'd think she might want to just put her feet up and rest.

Casserole patrol

On the day we met, she was dressed for action. White tennis shoes, white socks and a plaid jumper. The action was her great-granddaughter, Kaela, not quite 2 years old. Bright, well-behaved but a handful.

Chasing her was not exactly what the doctor had ordered for her mother, Ingrid Jarmon-Thomas, recovering from a hysterectomy. And Ingrid, who teaches elementary school in Finneytown, had precious little time to recuperate before classes started.

So Granmuddy packed up her bags and came to help. As she always does.

There is, if you don't already know it, a conspiracy of women like Amanda McGhee. They head up the casserole patrol when somebody is sick or grieving. They know what to do for a baby with colic. They have sewing baskets and cookie sheets and aren't afraid to use them. They show up when they're needed.

They make things you can't buy. And they give time they don't have. If you're lucky like Ingrid and her husband, Ed, who works at Procter & Gamble Co., you're related to one.

If you're not, sometimes you can borrow.

Ms. McGhee, born in Knoxville, grew up in the West End then moved to Avondale. Her care packages go out to college students all over the country, filled with pecan sandy and tollhouse cookies. She dispenses homemade pound cakes and sweet potato pies to the old, the infirm and the lonely.

Bragging rights

I don't mean to make her sound like a saint. For all I know, she sings off-key on Sunday mornings at New Prospect Baptist Church. Her pastor, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, says simply: ''She is living out what we preach and teach. She is a care giver.''

As we sit in the family's big beautiful house in Forest Park, she absently strokes Kaela's hair. I get the feeling she'd like to check on the laundry or iron something or bake something or mend something. Or something.

Someday, after I'm gone, I'm sure my granddaughter will say something like, ''Boy, you just can't get cookies like Mamaw used to buy.''

My homemade sugar cookies are like cuttlebone, and I mend hems with masking tape and staple guns. Small things. But will I come through for my little Rosie when she needs me for big things? Will I drop everything, put my life on hold if she asks? Will she ever think my story is worth telling?

Ingrid called me, she confesses, after Oprah turned her down. ''So I called you, because I think people should know there are women out there like my grandmother. She is always doing things for other people. I don't know if this is the kind of thing newspapers print.''

If it's not, it should be.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8493. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and is a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.