The Power of a Grandmother
My grandmother's love, strength and faithfulness have shaped both my life and my vision of the grandmother I want to be.
I was one of twelve grandchildren on my mother’s side. I wasn’t the oldest or the youngest, the best looking or the smartest. There was nothing that made me stand out, no talents or skills that made me special. I was a shy, awkward kid who usually escaped the notice of adults. Somehow my grandmother seemed to see me- the me that flew under the radar and was invisible to others. Even when her old farmhouse was filled to the rafters with aunts, uncles and cousins she had a way of finding a moment to notice me, to ask me about my life, to make me feel loved with the exchange of a few words. We lived far enough away that I only saw my grandmother once or twice a year. A visit to my grandparents meant an eight-hour drive in an old Pontiac packed with six people vying for leg space; the bickering becoming more intense as the trip wore on, punctuated by my father’s threats to pull the car over and give us something worth crying about. Pulling into the old dirt driveway of the white, ramshackle farmhouse the exhaustion from the trip gave way to excitement as we saw my grandparents standing on the rickety old wood porch enthusiastically waving to us as if our arrival were the most exciting event of their lives. I loved both of my Kansas farmer grandparents, but it was my grandmother that spoke to my heart. The power of a loving grandmother.
My grandmother looked like most grandmothers; her comfortably soft body usually dressed in a homemade cotton dress in her signature lavender color and an apron encircling her generous waist, her long gray hair worn in a bun or braids crossed on top of her head. She was born in 1900, a time when women were expected to be subservient to their husbands and allow the men to be the “head of the household.” Although she loved and respected my grandfather, there was no doubt it was an egalitarian home. She was a strong woman not afraid to express her opinions even when in direct conflict with others, including my grandfather. I remember many spirited debates around the kitchen table with my grandmother’s voice ringing loud and clear. Raised by a divorced mother in an era where divorce was rare taught my grandmother a fierce independence. She kept her maiden name as part of her full name, an almost unheard of decision in the 1920s when she married. I admired her strength, intelligence and refusal to conform to social norms. She drank Tang as if she were an astronaut, made homemade yeast rolls as if she were Julia Child and expounded on political and religious topics as if she were on the Senate floor. The power of a strong grandmother.
Because we saw each other so rarely and phone calls were a rare and expensive indulgence, our relationship was nurtured by a pen-pal-style correspondence. From the time I could scratch out a few words on a piece of paper, I wrote to my grandmother, and she faithfully wrote right back. She shared with me news of her daily life, fun stories of her childhood (telling me about her youthful romances as I grew older) and discussed what was going on in my life. Even when her vision deteriorated to the level of being legally blind, she found ways to continue our correspondence. Whether it was her great style of writing or her sincere interest in my life, she had a knack of making me feel loved and special, like I was her only grandchild. I have stacks of letters written in her distinctive, shaky handwriting that followed me through my nomadic post-high-school years. For a period of ten years I had approximately 15 addresses, but her letters always found me. The power of a faithful grandmother.
Over thirty years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, my grandmother died unexpectedly. Despite being very sick with my pregnancy I flew halfway across the country to be at her funeral. My heartbreak at her loss was partially diminished as I was rewarded by the best compliments I have ever received; over and over her friends exclaimed how much I resembled her in her younger days. The passage of years has not dimmed the memory of her, and becoming a grandmother myself has brought thoughts of her to the forefront. I hope I can be the grandmother she was to me. She had little money and few possessions to leave me, but I continue to benefit from the most valuable inheritance possible- the legacy of a loving, strong and faithful grandmother.