Those living in the downtown Murfreesboro area have come to know Granny, a.k.a. Elizabeth Jernigan, who can often be seen hanging out on the recliner on her porch smoking cigarettes, reading or just watching the world go by.
“I love to sing,” Granny said, offering to sing a song for some visitors.
She launches into “When We All Get to Heaven.”
“Sometimes I come out here at one in the morning just to sing,” she said, sitting on her porch.
Granny can explore a little, too; some in the neighborhood report seeing Granny at various times through the day near their houses. She has a love for flowers, evidently.
“She’s a local icon,” one downtown dweller put it.
Granny, who is 68 years old, can be overcome with joy one moment and bursting into tears the next, such drastic and instantaneous emotional transformations are commonplace for her.
A flag flies boldly on Granny’s porch: “God Loves Everyone Amen,” it proclaims.
“I pass her home every day coming back from work. Her sign makes me smile each time,” according to area resident Amanda Marlar.
Upon closer inspection, the flag is a white towel, secured partially with bandages.
Jernigan’s house doesn’t seem to contain many possessions; some family photos, an ashtray filled with cigarette butts and a very small bookcase with a few books on it. Granny says she loves to read, and particularly enjoys love stories.
Everyone needs a little love, eh?
“I’m just so happy to be alive,” Granny said.
She has survived “two brain aneurysms, I’ve been hit by two cars, and a van ran over my foot,” she said.
At times, she displays great anguish over her past, but then she will repeatedly expresses her gratitude just to have another day. And to sing.
“Ain’t no one going to stop me from singing,” Ms. Jernigan said. “Every morning I thank God for letting me live . . . and for giving me such a great singing voice.
“I go have lunch at Journey Home sometimes,” Granny continued. “My dad died two blocks away from there, so I go see him sometimes.”
Jernigan was born and raised in Murfreesboro, and attended McFadden and Central schools. She moved to Wisconsin when she was married, and lived there for 41 years. She has been back in the ’Boro for eight years and currently attends church at Fair Havens Independent Baptist Church.
“I don’t have any bad feelings at all, I’m happy!” she declared.
Jernigan’s brother and sister-in-law live across the street, and near them lives Pam, one of the people Granny calls a true friend. Jernigan says she has two daughters, Melissa and Kim; “. . . I haven’t spoken to my daughters in five years,” she said, noting one is in Nevada, one is in Wisconsin.
Granny is the eccentric character who those on nearby streets may find in the car, in their flowers or peering in their window.
Many will say that the community needs to show this lady love and compassion, that her wandering about is innocent, that she is in search of personal interaction; anyone’s grandmother might behave in that way.
Others point out that there are some (very valid) safety, legal and privacy concerns when individuals are allowed to come over for unannounced visits and to rummage through others’ possessions.
This can stir some mixed emotions among the neighbors: how does one balance being compassionate and loving toward a neighbor while still protecting personal property rights?
“She was put in our neighborhood for a reason,” commented Jennie Owens Simmons. “Kindness goes a long way in people’s lives and it sounds like she needs some.”
Meanwhile, Granny’s still singing, and grateful (hmm . . . maybe there’s a connection between singing, and being grateful).
“She does have the potential to be the next great folk artist!” said Leslie Russell Yost.
Whatever the future may hold, Granny plans to keep on singing.
“It’s like God gave me a reward; I don’t know why he let me live, but he did,” she said, bursting into tears again. “I can’t wait to sing in his choir.”