Wednesday, January 4, 2017

And then there are grandmas.

There are grandmas. And then there are grandmas.
My maternal grandmother was of the latter variety. Soft in all the right places, gentle, quiet, she was the rock of the family. I loved her dearly.
To me, she was Mum-mum, my name for her from the time I was toddler and she used to look after me while my then single-mother worked. Before I was out of diapers, my mom and stepdad were living together, and mom became a stay-at-home mom. I no longer spent every day with grandma. But I always looked forward to visits with her.
I would plunge in through the carport door, kick off my shoes in the narrow entry that doubled as a coat and laundry room, and dash into the dining room knowing I would find Grandma in her chair at the end of the table, cigarette in hand or smoldering in the ashtray, cup of tea in front of her, her pet Chihuahuas on her lap, the TV tuned to one of her favorite shows. As soon as I raced in, she would stub out her cigarette, shoo the dogs off her lap and to their wicker basket by the door, and allow me to take their place.
I'd clamber up and twist to look at her, maybe earn a peck on the cheek. After a few minutes of patiently answering whatever nattering questions I had, she'd scoot me off her lap, and head into the kitchen to fix me toast. With ketchup. And a cup of tea. Always a cup of tea. When Grandpa came in from the shop for lunch, she'd give me a look and nod, my cue to disappear into the living room and read, or color, while Grandpa ate in peace. As I grew older—and heavier—grandma was more inclined to bend her cheek toward me for a kiss, than let me invade her lap. So I would settle in the chair next to hers, eat my toast and ketchup, sip my tea, and watch her watch her favorite show. But time is fickle. And so are teens.
School work, sports, horses, friends, boys, motorbikes and cars dominated my teen years. And I rarely went along when mom went to visit her parents. What fun was sitting around grandma's house watching TV when I could race my horse against my friends' horses, or cruise back roads with my boyfriend?
A good decade passed where I rarely saw my grandparents but for family events, like Christmas, Thanksgiving and family reunions. But they again became an integral part of my life when, in my early twenties, my then husband and I moved into the mobile home on their property they had installed a few years earlier for one of my aunts. When she moved out, another of my aunts moved in. And then it was my turn.
Three years we lived side-by-side with Grandma and Grandpa. Three years I cherish. Three years my two eldest children ruled Grandma's lap. And made Grandpa laugh. Three years where I was welcome to wander across the yard that separated my home from theirs, and enjoy a cup of tea with Grandma, or simply sit on the foot of her bed and watch her favorite TV programs with her.
We laughed at Aunt Bea and Opie's antics. Watched Vanna turn letters. Provided Alex Trebeck the Answer. Rolled along with Ironside, and Matlock, solving crimes. And sometimes I cried.
My tumultuous first marriage heaved its final breath on Grandma and Grandpa's property. Before it did, it was to her I would go for comfort. Mostly she would listen. Sometimes she would comment. Only once did she judge:
           "If you don't like what's going on, change it. If you can't or don't want to change it, deal with it. But whatever you do, stop complaining."
She shocked the hell out of me with that. And sobered me up. Dragged me out of my pity pool, with a good swift kick in the proverbial ass.
Grandma at my first wedding.
Grandma's life had never been easy. Her younger brother died of an illness she had brought home from school, and survived. As far as I know she didn't know her father. And her stepfather was rumored to be not the kindest man. She never spoke about him. Or her mother. Or the sacrifices she made as a wife, and mother. Not once do I recall hearing her complain.
Grandma raised six children on a shoe-string budget. Kept the family together when Grandpa fell apart, and stopped working for over a year. She dealt with his alcohol abuse. Anger. Chased her daughters around the stairwell with a wooden spoon when they deserved it. Fixed them tea and handed them tissue when they needed it. Did her best to protect her only son from his father's contempt. 
She picked apples and made the sweetest-tart applesauce I've ever tasted. Turned cukes into tangy pickles, and raw salmon into canned delicacy. She doted on her dogs. Adored her grandchildren. And did whatever she could to make her children's lives easier. I miss her.
Today is the anniversary of her death. And it feels keener this year, than years past. Perhaps, because this year I am a grandma; my mortality no longer a distant echo, but a resounding boom, a persistent, rhythmic thump, like the tattoo of my grandson's heart beneath my hand when I cradle him on my chest. 

Grandma on her wedding day.
It leaves its mark, becoming a grandparent. A raw bruise where your youth and longevity used to be. I only hope, whatever time I have left—a decade, or four—I leave as indelible and happy a mark on my grandchildren's lives, as Grandma did on mine.

They never die, who have the future in them. ~Meridel Le Sueur

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