This story begins in Greensboro, NC. Janet Apple was born on April 9th, 1934 as Janette Lee Cockman. She quickly changed her name to Janet, bc Janette was too high falutin’.
She grew up the oldest girl of 5 children and she had a hard life. Growing up in the Great Depression and during the war really shaped her, generally her family didn’t have two pennies to rub together. She grew up in a world where children were seen and not heard and she was put to work at a very young age helping to raise her siblings, cooking and cleaning since her mother worked odd hours at The Mill. But to hear her tell it, it always sounded like such an adventure.
Every Saturday she would take her sister Nan Nan and two younger brothers Bobby and Dewey to the movie theater and they would literally stay the entire day. They would save up their money and buy penny candy and watch cartoons, the news and whatever the new feature was. She loved the movies. Her and her siblings moved around a lot but they always had each other. This is where her strong devotion to family began. They loved to play outside with the neighborhood kids…kids with names like Bert and Wimpy. Janet was forced to drop out of school in the 8th grade after developing the whooping cough. She always wanted to be a reporter.
At 18 she met Bob Apple…the love of her life. And after dating for a couple of weeks they drove down to South Carolina where they eloped. Bob was a hot headed truck driver who would do anything to help anyone and who loved to laugh and loved her dearly…he called her Jane (until Aunt Jane came along) Janet was a doting wife, going any lengths to make him happy.
Soon, they started their own family. First was Debbie (grandma always spelled it Debby), then my mom Anna, then Marty (Kristina’s dad) and then David.
Each kid was 18 months apart. Janet encouraged lots of playing outside and I think bc of the way children weren’t valued in her day, she did everything in her power to make her children feel special, loved and secure. She was the ultimate self discovery mom. She really let her kids explore and grow into their own…all while keeping a very watchful eye. Listening to her talk about her kids and grandkids was my grandma at her best. No one loved family like this woman did. The Apple family started out in Greensboro, then moved to Roanoke Rapids (a year they all still curse) and then finally settled in Little Washington, NC.
As the kids started marrying off and having kids of their own, the best mom in the world became the best Grandma in the world. And our ultra close knit family grew and grew!
After the kids were grown, Gigi worked in an elementary school cafeteria and she washed dishes….she loved this job. Are you sensing a theme here!? This woman was as grateful as they come. She always had a smile unless you were trying to mess with her family and then she would threaten all kinds of things. She is hands down the most pleasantly patient and wonderful human….and y’all, she was funny as hell, and she knew it! Kelly, Kristina and I would all take turns going down and spending part of the summer with my grandparents…either apart or all together.
These will continue to rank at the top of the Why My Childhood Was So Fucking Awesome list. One of the best things about Grandma Apple is that she would play with us….and I mean really play, which btw is all that kids want in this world…for someone to listen to them and to really play! She would lay on the floor and play dolls, draw, she would build us a fort under the dining room table, we would clear out everything that was going bad in the fridge and make “mud” pies (they were comprised of sand and crab apples!), she would make cities in the backyard and we would dig out a space for an aluminum pie tin and fill that tin with water and blue food coloring for the pool,
we played dominoes and Old Maid and war and we climbed trees and went for walks and spent countless hours at the park across the street, we explored every single graveyard Little Washington had to offer, we would explore everything, we would lay in the hammock, play in the bird bath, sleep on the back porch, eat everything in sight, play in whatever camper, rv, tent or elcomino they had at the moment, we played with grandpa’s Sears truck, circled our Christmas wishlist in her Sears catalogue, helped make tea in the awesome pitcher with old ads on it, we had our own sippie cups and tiny forks and spoons, we painted those stained glass looking window hangers, we sang, she read to us, and she told us so many stories. We were never treated as less because we were children. She would let us sit on the porch and listen to hours of stories with the grown ups. She would let us help cook. If we wanted to try coffee…so be it! Kristina and I wanted to learn how to play the piano, so she bought a book with the notes labeled and then bought alphabet stickers and labeled the keys! We would spend hours, the three of us on that piano bench learning to play and singing Bicycle Built for Two. There was lots of singing and music and talking and joking. Everyone mattered. She always had Juicy Fruit gum in her purse…she called it Juicy Poot. She was a gassy bird and her trumpet farts kept us all in stitches. She would braid our hair and put giant puffy yarn balls in them and call them Grandma Plaits.
She gave the best little back rubs besides my own mom. Her hands were cold and her fingernails were long. She had a ring on every finger. We always got to sleep in bed, out on the porch or on theL shaped couch with her. Nothing was off limits. We could play with anything…she let me pretend to shave when I was little, we could play with all of her hair accessories, and outfits and jewelry and shoes. We could explore her encyclopedias. She rarely ever said no unless she was afraid we were going to get hurt. We stomped in puddles and played in the rain. We got to help do anything she was doing and for her being with us was a pleasure and not a chore and as a kid you can really feel that! Grandma and Grandpa even surprised Kristina and myself with a trip to Disney! They taunted us for months, our only clue was that it was bigger than a breadbox! They had it written on the calendar under sticky notes and captured both of our reactions as we tore it off!
We had the best time!
The car trip down and back and all the motels and pools…it was epic. And again, she really let us do what we wanted. We literally spent 10 hours in a motel pool! So fun! As we got older, we still wanted to come and visit.
This was their living room in the house on Nicholson Street. So many fond memories here! But for me, it always boiled down to the stories. I wanted to know everything and she would always oblige! She was the perfect story teller. She was so engaging. She loved recounting every single detail and like I said, she was so damn funny. I hung on her every word and she welcomed questions, conversations and debates. We spent so many hours solving the worlds problems. She reminded me over and over again how boring the world would be if everyone was like me…I still don’t agree with this one winky face! But it always came back to her overarching life lesson of, family first…we do anything for our family. If someone needs help we help them, no questions asked….and conversely if someone crosses our family we descend upon them like a thousand vultures…or at least we talk like we would! #allbarknobite I always loved this. It gave me a grand sense of community and loyalty and a purpose. That’s another thing about Gigi, she loved a purpose. We were always close but after I moved in for hair school, we became the very best of friends.
Living with someone bonds you in a way that is indescribable! At this point they had moved to Wilson. My grandpa’s health was starting to decline and Little Washington was just too far from the fam. I am so thankful that I got to spend a year with Bob and Janet….in a one bedroom home!!! It was a hilarious time. She loved having a purpose…a reason to get up in the morning she would say. She spoiled me rotten and I loved every minute of it. We resumed our back porch chats.
We really got to know each other even better. We transitioned from grandmother, granddaughter to super best buddies. We made each other laugh, we liked a lot of the same things. We watched King of the Hill and the Clay Aiken season of American Idol. This sweet angel made a journal and she wrote in it every day that I lived there!
More memories…more things for me to cherish and a little more history! She was a great letter writer and she spared no detail! And you always got a drawing.
I am so thankful for the letters and pictures and videos. Then she lost my sweet grandpa. This was a dark little time. They celebrated 50 plus years together. She would always say, I went from my fathers house to my husbands house. She spent the night with me shortly after and asked a million questions on what it was like to be single and live alone. I tried to comfort her in any way that I could and share as much information as I had. She felt like she had lost her purpose and I was worried about her for awhile. She didn’t want to be happy or laugh for awhile bc it felt like a betrayal to my grandpa. But we made it through. From this point on we were the single girls in the family…which meant lots of bunking up and roomate-ing it up on every single family outing and vacation. I not so secretly loved this. A chance to snuggle up again and talk all night long…um yes please! On one of these nights down at the beach on Thanksgiving she told me she was ready to date again. And /i said well what are you looking for. She said someone to drive me to the store and to Raleigh and maybe to Cherokee…so I said, so you want a driver?! And she said, yeah that’s it! Hahahahaha We would giggle all night and then she would terrifyingly sleep talk…more like sleep scream! When I think about her being gone, initially I did what most people do in that situation and I leaned into regret. Why didn’t I call her back on Monday, why didn’t I visit more!? But then I thought, no way dude. Every single person in my family cherished this woman every single day of our lives and we will continue to honor her for all the days of our lives. We all had the pleasure of spending an inordinate amount of time together since family comes first with the Apples. Looking back there are no regrets…just the fondest memories. Then she became a Great Grandma or Gigi as we called her…and the traditions continued!
It was so cool watching more people that you love fall in love with a woman that you covet! She is so charming, everything about her draws you in and this charm works on everyone. The memories are abundant. She taught us so many wonderful lessons, but mostly I think she taught us all how to love without limits and laugh more than you cry. I will always think of her sitting with her legs out even though there was no ottoman, with her legal pad and clip board, her word searches, her survival kit, her spit jar, and the tv guide from the newspaper. In my mind she will always be sitting next to a basket of a million balls of yarn, on some form of a plaid couch with an afghan. I will always think of her Lumina van. I hear her laugh every time I close my eyes. I laugh every time I think of the time that she bought a size 14 bikini at a yard sale #ew for the beach (she was maybe a size 8 at best) and at age 76 was going to wear that ill fitting, gappy in all the wrong crotches piece of shit to the beach for our family vacation! #intervention She was kind and compassionate and she cared so deeply. She was brave and fearless when it came to protecting her pack. Kristina, Kelly and I were floating in the Pamlico Sound when a Man of War jellyfish #deadly came swimming towards us and Grandma Apple single handedly drug the three of us up on to the dock by a rope! But my favorite moment of all time would have to be when Me, Kelly and Kristina were at her house making Christmas candy and she came around the corner with a newspaper clipping of a Victoria Secret guide to bra fitting. She asked who would help her and I volunteered. She handed me a measuring tape and ripped her shirt and bra off and those sweet granny ninnys unfolded to the ground. We got so tickled at trying to measure her snoopy nose boobs, I told her she needed to pick them up from her waist and we all lost it to the point that she peed her pants, ran into the bathroom and streaked back to her room like a New Years baby! I don’t know if I have ever laughed harder. I loved how much my dad loved her, you always hear of guys hating their mother in laws but my dad cherished this woman. She always tried to sneak in a serious conversation but she was so hilariously transparent. Every time I watch the Big Bang Theory I know she will be with me. This week I turned it on to PBS and they were begging’ for money as she called it and I knew she was here. I still don’t really want to accept that she is gone, but writing this and knowing that the other zillion members of my family are still around makes things a lot easier. I will miss and celebrate Janet Apple for the rest of my life. She outlived most of her family and lots of her friends and even though she was the picture of health, I suppose her want to be with the ones that she loved took over. And you have to respect that. She lived every single day, so I know that she had no regrets and like I said yesterday she will live on in all of us. Thank you for indulging me in this piece to honor the late, great Janet Apple. You would have loved her and please believe, she would have loved you dearly. Bye Shug-er.
No you hang up!
Bye sweet friend, until we meet again.