Remembering Grandma

Two years ago, my grandmother passed away. My father’s mother had the same habit of holding short conversations, but there many unspoken lessons I learned from Grandma over the years. Our daughters talk of their great grandmother at times also – she passed away when they were eight years old, so their memories were of times that Grandma was living in an assisted living facility, but they smile as they tell me of these visits. With today’s economic struggles, I remember Grandma’s lessons from the Great Depression, and even in her later years, Grandma always insisted on reusing bread bags, for instance. And at Christmas, we always saved the bows – so they could reappear on next year’s gift. …maybe this is why I have the large boxes of bows and gift bags under the bed. 🙂 Thank you, Grandma, for the lessons you passed on to us!

First posted on June 27, 2007

Lessons from my grandmother

My grandmother lived a very full life, one she rarely talked much of. She was born more that 86 years ago, and she lived through The Great Depression, the death of a sister, World War II, a divorce, a second marriage, raising of two sons, the cancer and death of her husband, the aging and death of her mother, a number of hip replacement surgeries, having a pacemaker implanted in her heart, loss of her hearing and vision, her own issues of “growing old” and moving from her home of several decades… and these are just a few of the bits I know of.

Grandma was never one for long conversations or for sharing a lot of personal information. My cousin and I joked a few days ago how a phone call with Grandma was great… as long as you remembered to keep it under 60 seconds. (Her son is quite similar, but I’m afraid this granddaughter didn’t inherit that trait.)
Though she may not have “told us” a lot, Grandma has indeed passed on several lessons, ones that are useful at any age.

History matters. Grandma spent a lot of time studying genealogy, finding the historical roots of her – and of our – family. She let me know that if I ever desired, I could join the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution), as our family can be traced back that far. In fact, Dolly Madison is not just a snack cake brand, but this wife of President James Madison was my great, great… (etc.) great aunt. I had to ask the questions, but remembering information that she had shared with me as I wrote a paper in college, I asked her during our Mother’s Day visit this year to tell her great-granddaughters about her family and the Underground Railroad, as the girls had studied this in school. So she explained that her own grandfather told stories of how the horses in the barn would be sweaty and muddy in the morning, and he later found that his father had been transporting escaped slaves to the next stop in the Underground Railroad. [My father said that this was actually her grandmother, and they have even found her written stories in an old journal. Wow!]

There are times to be stubborn… and perhaps times not to be.
Grandma has always been quite determined, and I remember when she was staying with my younger brother and me for a few days while my parents were gone. (I think I was eleven or twelve years old.) The only thing I specifically recall from those few days is the “peach episode.” With dinner, we were having canned peaches. The peach halves were in bowls for each of us, and when my brother was going to start eating his, Grandma had a fit – Matt was obviously using the wrong utensil! I believe he was using a spoon to slice and consume the said fruit, but Grandma said he needed to use a FORK. (It might have been the other way around, but that wasn’t the point.) Neither would budge, so I think that Matt was told he wouldn’t have his dessert if he wouldn’t use the correct silverware. In their minds, they both won, as he didn’t switch utensils and she kept his piece of cake. But what did this accomplish? Did it lead to better table manners, or help make her time at our home run more smoothly? Not really. (Matt does have very good manners, though I don’t think it’s related to canned peaches.) I’ve watched since then, and after initially dragging her heels (quite understandably), Grandma did move from her house of several decades into an assisted living facility in Muncie. And after coming to terms with the changes, Grandma eventually told us how it was nice not to have to worry about cooking, home repairs, lawn care… I know it was a hard step, and the acceptance did not come easy for her. But she knew this was a time to stop being stubborn.

Time is a beautiful gift. After we moved to Upland, I recall being able to have Grandma and her friend Mary over for lunch at our house on Main Street. Wanting to please and impress Grandma and her friend, I made crab quiche and homemade Swiss cheese bread. Then we had fresh blueberries in Fostoria fruit cups, while we ate our main dish on the Fostoria glass plates that Grandma had just passed on to me. After she moved to Muncie, Grandma lived right by my ride home from Ball State, where I was taking night classes and finishing my Master’s degree. Grandma was much more of a “night owl” than “early bird,” so I would stop by her room around 10 p.m., on my way home from class, and we’d chat for up to an hour. I’d hear of her neighbors in the hall, of her long-lost friend from high school with whom she’d reunited, how her friend Mary really should come live there also… and Grandma would hear about young married life and family news. And she’d still talk about that Swiss cheese bread and quiche I’d made for her a few years back. As the years progressed, the girls and I would sometimes visit Grandma during the day, and on our way up to her room, there would be others who were hungry for visits from family, from children, and my daughters continued learning the lessons of life. Grandma often mentioned how friends had children or grandchildren who rarely visited, if ever, and I knew that for us, this was time well spent.

There are several other thoughts that come to mind, and I’m sure we’ll discuss many of these tomorrow. You see, my grandmother passed away early Monday morning. Her funeral will be tomorrow, June 28, and her grandsons, grandson-in-law, and great-grandsons will be her pallbearers. If there are peaches at the funeral dinner, I don’t know if we’ll use forks or spoons to eat them, but I do know that many special memories will be shared.