honor of Mother's Day, I want to share some of my memories of Three of the Most Important
Women who gave me My Life.
She was my Great-grandmother. The only one of my Great-grandmothers still living when I was born. She lived in a little house with a small front porch, less than a block from my Grandparents' home. She always seemed very old to me and somewhat frail in the years I knew her, but then, I was a child, and I do know that she lived by herself, cooked for herself; kept her own house and did her own washing and did some gardening so I quite expect that she was much more capable than my young years gave her credit for being. My most vivid memory of her is of wispy, snowy white, wavy hair covered with a very fine net; a sweet, but somewhat somber no-nonsense-allowed face with many crinkly wrinkles and wire framed glasses. We (my Grandma, my sister and I) would go to see her for "a visit" about once or twice a week. To a child's mind, it wasn't one of the most exciting pastimes for a summer's afternoon and the time went rather slowly, but both my sister and I knew what was expected of us and we tried very hard to be good and not fidget too much. It helped, that both Susan and I wanted very much to please our Grandmother, whom we loved very much. She would be extravagant in her praise of our restraint, when we had successfully completed a visit and that was worth the effort to us, most days.
If the visit went on for a certain time, Susan or I would sometimes politely ask if we might have the box of cards. Great-grandmother would go into her "spare bedroom" and get the large candy box from the bottom drawer of the dresser. In it were dozens and dozens of greeting cards that she had been sent, probably going back for many years. The interest for two little girls was in the pictures, and we could spend a lovely and fascinated 20 or 30 minutes, sitting on the floor with the cards spread on the floor around us, looking at the frolicking kittens, ladies in hats and pictures of Santa with his sack of toys and so many more images, while Grandma and Great-grandmother sat and talked of family doings and town gossip.
How many times I have wished that I could have that box now, as many of the cards had notes written upon them, or letters folded within that would give me some insight into this woman that was part of my own history and whom I knew so little. As a child will, I just assumed that she, having always been there, would always be there, so even as a young teen, I didn't presume to ask questions about her, to her, and one day, it was too late. I do know that she and Great-grandpa, who had died many years earlier had farmed; that she had born and raised two girls and two boys. She would have had much to tell of life during a time when horses and mules were used for transportation, electricity wasn't always common and a trip to a city such as St. Joseph was accomplished only by train, so virtually all shopping was done at the local Gantz Brother's dry goods emporium and general store and you made due with what you had. Much to tell of a way of life so different from 1950s life in the rural mid-west.
What happened to the card box? I don't know. It may have meant something to one of her daughters or perhaps to her older son, (not my Grandfather) and one of them may have taken it for a keepsake. But to this day, it is one of the few enduring memories that I have of my little, white-haired Great-grandmother.
What are my favorite memories of my Grandma? Those are very difficult to label as "favorite", for in the way that I knew very little about my Great-grandmother because I was young when she died, so my beloved Grandma lived a blessedly long life and I knew her as an adult, married with two daughters of my own. Because of this long association, I have 100s, if not 1000s of wonderful memories stored up to ponder and to savor. Her Great-granddaughters had the pleasure of getting to know her and spend many, many happy days with her as well (and I'm sure the admiration was mutual for Grandma's part). Grandma did, in fact, get the rare joy of having a Great-Great-granddaughter born a very short few days before she died. Even though she didn't get the chance to meet little Carrie, her happiness and excitement at knowing of the birth, was a bitter-sweet memory for me to remember as the second to last time that I spoke with her. The last was after her heart had begun to fail her and she spoke to me of how sick she was, while I held her hand in the hospital, but I can remember brushing aside her worries and assuring her that the doctors and her stay in the hospital would have her well and home again very soon.
But I want happy memories in my account, in celebration of Mother's Day....so here goes.....Grandma loved us, spoiled us but also made us mind when we were little. Her special brand of discipline relied heavily on making us want to mind so as not to disappoint her and, do you know, I cannot remember having ever been spanked even once by her for any infraction.
I loved---LOVED---going to spend time at our Grandparent's house. We spent great chunks of our summers with them and many holidays were celebrated within the walls of that wonderful, big brick house. Grandma was never too busy to listen to my chatter. She would laugh at my attempts at humor. Many lazy summer afternoons, we'd sit out on the porch swing, in the shade of the wide front porch, seeking a little bit of a breeze and talk while watching the comings and goings of small town life. After the supper dishes were done, we would go out and swing and listen to the Kansas City A's baseball games on the battery powered radio that Grandpa had set on the floor by his lawn chair and, with the swing creaking just a little, we would watch the dusk mellowly fold into darkness. All too soon, the mosquitoes would find us and after a few more minutes of waving our hands at the air in a futile attempt to chase away the whining little beasties, we'd reluctantly head into the house.
I remember sodas made with ice cream scooped into glasses and Pepsi poured over it. When Grandma would get up and go in the house saying "I'll be back in just a little bit" she'd come out with a soda for each of us, the glasses sporting a long handled spoon and straw. Yum, they tasted so good.
Grandma would patiently play dominoes or Crazy Eights with us for as long as it took for each of us to feel like a winner. In the late afternoons and early evenings when the sun had lost some of it's heat, we would play game after game of croquet in the side yard. Cheerfully and loudly sending each others balls out of bounds. Lining up shots and planning strategies. Sometimes in teams, always hoping to win but nearly always able to show good sportsmanship if we were defeated, because we understood how easily the breaks might fall to our advantage on the next game.
Grandma and Grandpa always had their heavier meal at the noon hour and Grandpa liked good, substantial meals with meat, potatoes, vegetables and salad and generally dessert. Early in July, Grandma would get on the phone and begin calling 'round to locate who had ear corn ready in their gardens or fields. The same with green beans. When she'd find them, Grandpa would be sent for them. Then we would help snap a 'mess of beans' or pull back the husks from fresh field corn and knew that we were in for a treat. Oh my, green beans cooked to perfection with just the right seasoning and several slices of diced bacon and onion---plus fresh picked corn (on or off the cob), sliced home-grown tomatoes, just plucked from Grandpa's vines and fabulous fried chicken that the Colonel really wished he could have made, along with cream gravy and mashed potatoes, peach pie with ice-cream to finish off and big glasses of iced tea.
............So many wonderful memories......... But I hope many of you are lucky, as I was, to have a Grandmother that always offered unconditional love and has given you a pocket full of joy-filled memories. She taught me so much and I still try to live up to her expectations in many ways to this day.
This is the tough one for me. For two related reasons: My Mother died when she was only 46 years old. That's too young to die. She died when I was barely 25 years old. That's too young to have to carry on without your Mom. I was still doing a bit of growing up, forming my 'adult' persona. Of course, I thought she would be around for years to come---counted on that fact---and then suddenly she was gone.
I have always felt that I came from a close, loyal and loving family background. To me, Mama was the one who ALWAYS worked hardest at giving us that feeling. We enjoyed each other's company and did fun family things like going to the circus and on family trips to the Lake of the Ozarks where we stayed in little cabins with cooking facilities. We went on picnics to Lake Jacomo or sometimes just for rides in the country on Sunday afternoons.
Mama stayed at home and was a housewife who made a comfortable, well-cared-for home for us, for all the years I was in grade school. She was a room mother for one of us kids every year, worked at the school carnivals, the bake sales and served as P.T.A. president at least one year during that time. I still have her president's pin in my jewelry box. After I became a teen, she took a part-time job and I can remember coming home to an empty house and just bursting with wanting to tell her about my day and having no one to tell on those days she was working. I know now, of course, that most of the reason she went to work was so there would be a bit more money to pay for the extra demands of having teenaged daughters who wanted to be in school clubs and have yearbooks and activity passes to the games and dances and mixers. Funny how added years will add perspective.
She was a good cook and to this day, I make some of our family's favorites from recipes that were hers or that Mama had originally gotten from her Mother.
Mama was artistic, loved music and had a lovely singing voice. She encouraged all of us to read and set a good example by loving to read herself and she read to us from an early age. She was patient about helping us with our homework and indulged us by cleaning up our room, when it got too awful. She was excellent at using mother psychology to get us to mind. However, unlike Grandma, she would spank us on rare occasions, when we had done our absolute worst. These times were, fortunately for us kids, very few and very far between but we knew that we had really done IT when she wielded the hairbrush and mostly because of a dislike of pain, we were pretty good kids.
When I became a teenager, she was always encouraging, using positive and unconditional love to help us grow and become responsible. But she was no push-over. Many of my school friends had a whole lot more freedom than I did and I sometimes despaired at ever being "free" to do what I wanted. But sometimes those 'free' kids got themselves into some pretty big 'jams' and I managed to move through my teen years without really serious trouble. She was happy for us to bring home friends and opened our home willingly on many occasions to giggling, shrieking girls making a mess to paint banners for a parade or whatever project was needed.
When, only a couple of years out of high school, I fell in love and knew I had found the man I wanted to marry, she was supportive, even though in her heart, I think she probably would have hoped that I might have waited a few more years to make such a life's commitment. She helped me break the big news to my Dad, who really wasn't ready for his 'little girl' to be taking such a step. She brought him around and we went wedding dress shopping and made all the plans including a Champaign Breakfast Wedding Reception at the Fred Harvey Restaurant in Union Station, which to me, at 20 years old, seemed the height of sophistication.
I think it always amazed her when she became a grandmother. She was so enchanted with our little Kimberly. We'd go over to their house and then just mostly sit around the living room and "Watch the Baby!" She also was able to meet and 'fall in love with' two of her other Granddaughters, our Debbie and Susan's beautiful tiny blonde haired, brown-eyed daughter JeaneAnn before we lost her to an aneurysm in her 47th year.
I wish I had been able to have some extra years getting to know her from an adult perspective. I think we could have become truly, adult friends and confidants as well as Mom and Daughter. The simple fact was that, after she died, I would reach for the phone to call her before the realization would hit that I couldn't do so any more. We'd been close, sharing our lives, exchanging confidences for my whole existence and each family member's life was part of a patchwork quilt, fitting together, complimenting each part, one to another, to form the whole. To loose her was to tear at this design, leaving it less than it had been.
I do know that she had two fears---really one fear, one denial. Mama, did not go to doctors (except when she had her babies), unless under greatest duress. At the time just before she died, Daddy had nagged her into seeing a doctor. She had been diagnosed with high blood pressure but was pooh-poohing it's being anything like a serious problem because she "felt fine". I can still remember her saying "If you think you are well, you will be." Which had pretty much been her personal credo for her whole adult life. Her other fear was of death---not her own so much---but rather of loosing the people that were her life: Her parents and even my father since he was 12 years older than she.
I have sometimes wondered if God took her first because he knew she would not be able to handle these eventual loses. I will have to trust God on this one, but I still miss having her with us and wish she were here to have the chance to see what wonderful adults her Grandchildren (all six of them) have become (or, in Carlie's case --David's youngest-- is growing to be). Also, I know she would love to meet her Great-grandchildren! These kids would get to see how much fun is to be found in a simple box filled with sequins, beads, rickrack, white craft glue and felt squares. They would be able to sing along with Great-Grandma or listen to her read them stories. They would be able to sit side by side with her at the kitchen table with a box of crayons and a coloring book spread out before them and talk about what was going on at school as they and she colored pictures on adjoining pages, comparing coloring techniques. To my Mama, Family was the most important thing. She always made us feel that taking care of us was her most important work. She passed on such a wonderful feeling of security and love to her Children. I'm grateful for her steady guidance for as long as she was with us.
Love to My Family ...Those who came before me,
All who surround me in the Present and
Those who will come after me ...
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