Cat Stevens sang of looking for a hard-headed woman. He certainly would have found such a woman in me. What can I say? It’s got to be genetic. I inhereted my tete dure (as we Cajuns say) from my mawmaw.
My father’s mother was the most stubborn person I’ve ever known. (Lest you think being hard headed passed only to the females of the family, my dad was the second most stubborn person I’ve ever known.) My grandmother was born in the early days of the 20th century and lived through the Great Depression, which is maybe what made her so careful with money. She’s so tight, my dad would say about his mother, she’ll squeeze a nickel until the buffalo moans. (The joke’s not so funny now that Thomas Jefferson is on most U.S. nickels.) In addition to being what might be called hyper-frugal, my grandmother did not easily let go of an idea once she made up her mind.
My grandma had four husbands before she died at nearly 90 years of age. I never knew my grandfather, and I was an oblivious child during her marriages to #2 and #3. (The woman was a good Catholic and never divorced anyone; all of her marriages ended in death. She was a good Catholic, but not a perfect one; I learned as a teenager that marriage #2 was of the common-law variety.) I was a teenager during her last marriage and more interested in what the adults were talking about.
During one of our family visits, my grandma and her husband were discussing their disagreements. Whenever they had an argument, my grandmother said, and she couldn’t sway her husband to her thinking, she eventually just walked off and finished the argument by herself! My whole family thought that was hilarious! (I don’t remember if her husband was amused.) It wasn’t difficult to imagine my mawmaw going off on her own to finish an argument in her head, in her favor, of course. Her husband wasn’t going to change her mind, so why keep talking when she could wrap things up on her own? Tete dure indeed!
My grandmother’s funniest case of stubbornness involved the use of her air conditioner.
She lived in Louisiana, always had. She knew the summers were hot and humid and difficult to get through. She also knew cooling her house with one small window unit cost precious money, money she’d sooner not part with. She knew once she turned on the air conditioner, she wouldn’t want to turn it off, so she tried to last as long as possible without it.
At some point, she set a date for turning on the air conditioner. Her arbitrary date for using the air conditioner was June 1. Before June 1, she would not use the air conditioner, no matter what. She didn’t care if it was May 28, the temperature was 96 degrees and humidity was at 98%–the air conditioner was not coming on. Mawmaw had made up her mind and there was nothing that could change it.
My grandmother’s stubborn refusal to use the air conditioner before June 1 was a family joke, but it was no joke if we had to pay her a visit late in May. For all intents and purposes, it was summer, but no way was she turning on the air conditioner early. She wasn’t going to change her mind and waste precious pennies simply because she had company. No amount of begging or complaining was going to soften her hard head.
Visiting once it got hot but before the air conditioner came on was miserable, but having to spend the night there was torture. It’s hard to sleep through hot and sweaty nights even with a ceiling fan blowing overhead. Why my parents even went there in those in-between days, I’ll never know. I suppose there were adult reasons why it couldn’t be avoided.
Sometimes while passing through her town, my family would stop at my grandmother’s house and discover she wasn’t home. My dad had a key to the side door, so we were able to go inside to use the bathroom and get a drink of cold water from the glass jug in the refrigerator. At least once we stopped late in May to find my grandma gone. My dad unlocked the door and made a beeline to the air conditioner, which he not only turned on, but cranked to the coldest setting. My sibling and I were scandalized, but exhilarated too. It wasn’t June 1st yet! Dad was clearly breaking the rules, but that cold air sure felt good.
We didn’t stay long enough for the cold air to cool down the whole house, but I wonder if my grandmother returned home soon after our departure and wondered why the house didn’t feel as hot as it should have. I wonder if she came home so many hours later that all the cool air had dissipated completely and she was absolutely unaware of my father’s transgression. I wonder if she looked at May’s electric bill and thought it seemed higher than it should have been. Maybe she was confused. How could it have been so high? she might have wondered. I didn’t even turn on the air conditioner until the first of June.