Mike Kilgore recalled his late grandmother at a StoryCorps booth in Indianapolis.
Mike Kilgore's grandmother — born Sara Louisa Matilda Elizabeth Nowles — played a large role in his life. From helping Kilgore stay out of trouble with his father to teaching him how to approach life's problems, her lessons have stayed with him long after her death.
One particular night during his childhood years in Alabama captured much of that dynamic, Kilgore says. He had gone over to her farmhouse to visit, bringing along his cousin Jimmy.
The two boys decided they would smoke some rabbit tobacco — an aromatic herb. They rolled it into cigarettes using newspaper, and lit up.
"We were not inhaling it, but we thought we were big shots," recalls Kilgore, 61.
And that's when Kilgore heard his dad's pickup truck outside.
His grandmother's house had a potbelly stove, and the boys shoved the pile of rabbit tobacco into it, hoping to get rid of the evidence. Instantly, smoke began pouring out, filling the room. They opened the windows to clear the air, even as Kilgore's father was beating on the door to be let in.
Once inside, he sized up the scene quickly — and his hand went to his belt, ready to punish the two boys. That's when Kilgore's grandmother stepped in.
"Cecil Kilgore, you're not going to lay a hand on those boys," she said. "This is my house, and as long as they're here, you're not going to lay a hand on them."
Kilgore's father left. And after that night, Kilgore says, "off and on, basically I'd spend the night with her."
She always had words of advice for him, saying things like, "Mikey, if you look at the bad, the good's going to always pass you by."
Kilgore's grandmother died when he was 15. He was at her bedside on her final day, and she told him something else that showed him the bright side of a sad day.
"She had a smile on her face," Kilgore says. "She said she could hear the angels. She could hear them singing."
Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.