Grandmothers — As Different as Night and Day
Mom's mother was my Granny Rachel. She wore a dark, full-length dress with a shawl and kept her pocketbook close at hand. To my young eyes she was a character from olden times or one of my picture books come to life: Riding Hood’s grandmother, the old Lady in a shoe, or Jack’s mother who gave him money that he frittered away on seeds for a beanstalk.
Granny continually sat directly inside the front door of her three-room house, her chair across from the only source of heat, a smelly, coal burning, pot-bellied stove. In good weather, the door stayed open for Granny to keep watch on the tiny neighborhood. She made no secret of being on guard against Henry, one of her many wayward grandsons whom she believed had stolen a silver dollar from her pocketbook.
The pattern on the linoleum was visible only in low traffic areas, furnishings were spare, nicked, and whatever color had once existed was long washed away. Each small room had a single, naked bulb in the center of the ceiling with a string extending the pull chain. Big families were the norm and she had eleven kids, all grown and gone when I knew her. My mom stopped in often to visit. Despite getting carsick, every week or so Granny welcomed Daddy driving her for groceries to a nearby town. When Grampa died, his coffin was displayed in the far corner of that front room. With all the adults distracted and gathered in the kitchen, Henry and I took turns standing on the wide arm of Grampa’s chair and rocking to almost touch the open casket.
My dad’s mom, Grandma Vesta, wore stylish dresses adorned with what she called furbelows (coordinated brooches, earrings, and necklaces.) Her house was at least three miles across town from my other Granny. It was nicely furnished with indoor plumbing. The large kitchen included a huge dining table with matched chairs for eating meals properly. Framed prints graced the walls and homemade cookies were always available for the taking in a large red tin in a bottom cupboard easily accessible to kids. Grandpa Clifford always wore a three-piece suit and died tripping over his shoelace exiting a boat. They had twelve kids with two dying very young. By the time I came along, it was just the two of them.
She embroidered, did crochet, and sewed. She belonged to Eastern Stars, a Methodist lady's group and sewed a blue satin dress for a formal occasion that she referred to as being the exact color of the sky. Grandmother insisted on proper grammar and complete sentences and reminded me to add "I" when saying "thank you". Once, while she was listening to music with Grandpa on the console radio, I made the mistake of mocking the bass-baritone singing “Old Man River.” They let me know I was being stupid, and in that moment, I learned to think twice before speaking.
One time during my wild, free-roaming kid years I let loose with a belch, Grandma hastened to say, “Excuse a pig.” She offered me her 2nd best heels for a witch’s costume once, but I refused since she didn't want to color them black. While showing family photographs, she pointed out various in-laws. I innocently asked which ones were the outlaws! She doubled over with laughter. When one of Grandma’s friends asked me how I liked school, I replied that I didn’t and got a slap across the face for my insolence.
Family connections for good or bad are decidedly ours to do with what we will. Keeping track of them in a journal is smart, if not necessarily for yourself then for those people coming after you. Aside from the Family Bible, where to keep such valuable information? A journal designed for that purpose makes good sense. It only takes a little time to jot impressions and experiences to bring the past back to life. It’s a worthwhile and caring thing to do.