In all my years of going up and down Highway 16 from Griffin, GA to Carrollton, GA, I remember my exhaustion as a graduate student at West Georgia College. Years after I graduated, Barbie Beach was created in Turin, GA as a roadside attraction. I wished we had Barbie Beach in Turin, GA as a landmark in 1994. If I made it that far, late on a Friday night to return to my Griffin home to help Mother with my ill grandmother, I would have known I was nearing home.
In my day, we had a dark road, with few landmarks. Psychologically, I could have used the chuckle – I had little at that time.
Barbie Beach is located at the west of Turin, before Turin Road, on the southside of Highway 16. Many Barbies are posed with a theme. It is pure Americana and for many years, I have passed it – but I have never stopped. However, the meaning of the roadside attraction means a bit more to me: because of my grandmother. She loved Barbies – and had she been able to see such a roadside attraction, she would have enjoyed it with a mixture of appreciation to creativity and amusement.
MeeMaw, my mother’s grandmother, was my world from the time her own world ended. She had to find a new reason to live – and I gave it to her. Her husband died in 1974 and saddened, grieved, and lonely, she was invited to come live with my parents. She did – and quickly took me under her wing. I was two years old and my mother wished to return to work to supplement our family income as a public school teacher. My mother also missed her career. Knowing her mother would be childcare and enabler, my mother could return to her career.
MeeMaw, in short, reared me. She was the hand that comforted me. She was the hand that put my rebellious nature in line (switches galore!). She was the one who cared for me when sick or had surgeries. Most of all, she was my best friend. Never has a girl been so blessed to go from toddler to child to teen to young woman and have such a loving and devoted caregiver – and grandmother.
As I began graduate school, MeeMaw’s health began to fail. Quickly, we learned she also had Alzheimer’s disease. It broke my heart. I cannot imagine what it did to my mother, for she was my MeeMaw’s sole surviving child. In graduate school, I would work in the college at day and do my studies and classes at night. I also had a retail part-time job and a seasonal job as a research assistant. Nevertheless, I informed my mother, from the beginning, “On weekends, I will be there – to relieve you.” My mother accepted my help.
She knew why: if MeeMaw took care of me, not only did I owe it to her to care for her, but also it was due to the fact I loved her. She was my best friend. Two days before my graduate school graduation, she died. The day I was to graduate, I buried my best friend and grandmother.
My mother’s heart was broken. I was lost – with a Master’s degree in hand – and the person who so cheered me on – gone.
I was able to finish my last exam and decided not to take a year teaching, but stay home to help Mother adjust to life without MeeMaw. I went to work in a local mill. It was, without a doubt, the best decision I made for that time. Mother and I became closer, we healed together, and most of all, we learned how much MeeMaw had done for us – enabling a career, rearing a wayward hellion, and loving us.
At times, I drive to Carrollton to see old graduate school friends or do business and pass Barbie Beach. The Barbies have a variety of poses – and sometimes a recurring change in theme, but I smile and sometimes, I feel saddened. I miss her. I remember the 22 year old, rushing home to help my mother care for my grandmother and the memories that are both sad and happy. Alzheimer’s disease is a thief in the dark of night that steals our loved ones; and I pray for a prevention and a cure.
Thank you, MeeMaw, for rearing me into a woman of substance and worth. Yes, I know you would want me to stop and see Barbie Beach because you would have found it to be “pure Americana!” Next time as I pass Barbie Beach, I will stop for you. May I feel your laughter in the wind –
Learn more about Barbie Beach at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Barbie-Beach/143088132429105?fref=ts.