Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grandma

Today is my grandma Fay's birthday. She would have been 101 years old. I miss her so much. She passed away almost 9 years ago. I've had a few vivid dreams since then where I've been in her presence, felt her arms around me, and felt that she is keeping as busy as ever. That's been a gift and a comfort.

As my maternal grandmother, she has profoundly influenced my life in so many ways. The mothering and teaching she gave to my own mother and those things becoming ingrained in who I am now; I don't think I'll ever know how much of an impact her life has had on mine.

She had so many qualities that I hope to have one day and I can see that my life has several similar threads. She loved life. She loved it so much that this love, purpose, and activity kept her going until she was in her late 90's. She kept busy. She worked hard.

She woke before the sun rose in the morning. Those early mornings were often spent out in the raspberry bushes, endlessly picking and picking and coming back inside with scratches to prove it. Those berries turned into the best freezer jam, pies, and homemade ice cream. (I'll never eat a raspberry without thinking of her.) She was proud of her beautiful garden. Along with the raspberries, she grew the garden so she could share with her family. I'll never forget the job I had after breakfast of taking the ice cream bucket out to the compost, dumping out those cantaloupe rinds and egg shells into the heap and being awe-struck that that could turn into the rich, black garden soil she and Grandpa were so proud of.

She and my grandpa were "rock hounds", traveling around the west in their camper, always on the hunt for a new gem or rock specimen to add to their collection. She knew all about the different types of rocks. When I'd go down in her dark basement, I'd often hear the rock tumbler rumbling away. She'd then take those polished stones and gems and fashion all kinds of things to again share with those she loved; tie bolos, belt buckles, wall clocks, rings, necklaces, and other kinds of ornamental framed lapidary work. She also did this with shells. We were so proud to take those little sewn bags of rocks to school to share with our friends. We were also the envy when we got share the rock and shell board collections with our science classes at school.

She loved to learn. After she passed away and we were going through her things, I was in awe of the notebooks she kept on Native Americans and Egyptology. Those things, along with geology, were interesting to her and that curiosity about this world, I know, helped enrich and add years to her life.

She loved to share and make gifts for her family. This brought her joy, not just in the giving, but I think that these aspects of creativity were important for her happiness. The quilts she'd make for all of us, the hours and hours of staying up late out alone in the "carport", those tiny bird like stitches... Gifts of love, each one, and a treasure. Later in her life, her focus and creative energies were put into her painted ceramic phase. We all treasured the Father Christmas's and other holiday figurines that still grace each of our homes. More labors of love, we marveled at the steadiness of her hand and how good her eyesight remained in her old age to be able to do such fine, detailed work.

Some other random memories:

The summer wouldn't be complete unless my sister Sara and I would get to stay with Grandma and Grandpa. She'd make everything so special, especially mealtime. We'd wake up in the morning to a beautifully set table with our choice of sweet cereal (what a treat!), and little dishes of cantaloupe or raspberries with either half-and-half or cream poured over top. (This brings to mind the smell of Grandpa's coffee and how he always had Shredded Wheat in his bowl.) The noon time meal was "dinner". Pot roast, mashed potatoes, creamed carrots, the little wooden bowls with a carefully arranged green salad with croutons and Blue cheese dressing. Always a treat from the freezer to finish it off or the novelty of your own little carton of flavored yogurt. "Supper" introduced me to fried zucchini that I thought I'd hate, but I quickly discovered that it was really something good to eat.

During those visits, Grandma would always plan lots of fun activities. Underwear shopping at Grand Central or the Bon Marche always seemed to happen. Movie matinees, stopping to get a bite to eat at Kentucky Fried, or a tour of the old Ogden Train Depot were some of the things we did together. Later after supper, she'd turn on Gene Autry really loud, pull out the ballerina costumes she bought for us, and beg us to dance for her. Even though doing that wasn't (in her words), my "cup of tea" I felt beautiful and I knew that it made her happy. It was so fun to be able to sleep out in the camper; even the time that I fell of the bed in the dead of night, cried out for her, and she came running out to rescue me. She taught me the correct way to wash dishes by hand (You need almost scalding hot water.) and how to make jelly the old fashioned way with paraffin.

Something funny: I was about ten and I remember staying up late watching the royal wedding of Princess Diana. Grandma had changed into her nightie and came in to check on me. It was a hot summer night. I'm not exactly sure of the details, but I remember her telling me that it was okay if I didn't sleep with my underwear on like she did. She walked away, and amazed, I didn't know whether to laugh, go ahead and be "liberated" like she was, or stay put. (I stayed put.)

I get tears in my eyes, thinking of those times when I'd first see her at a family party, or upon arrival at her house, or saying goodbye. Wrapping her arms around me, she'd give such tight hugs and was the only one I've ever known to give those famous "poop" kisses on our cheeks that made us all laugh. Her Grandma smell. I'll never forget the image I have in my mind of her standing and waving on the porch to send us home. I'd turn around in the back seat of the station wagon and notice that she wouldn't leave until we drove out of sight.

My heart sometimes aches for those times. I'm almost 41 years old now, but I still feel like that child I was when she was such a huge part of my life. If I could, this is what I'd say today:

Thank you, Grandma, for being you, yourself. Thank you for such happy childhood memories. Thank you for loving me just the way I was.

You've taught me so more than you'll ever know, and I thank you for that. I hope you know that now, like I am seeing more and more each day. I hope you are happy. That you know that I'm thinking of you today on your special day. I wish I could call you on the phone and sing you the Happy Birthday song like you always did on my birthday, even when I was a mother to my own. That we could catch up. That you could tell me what you are doing. That I could share my joys, victories, challenges, and day to day living and motherhood with you now.

I'll never forget you, Grandma. I'll see you in my memory and in my dreams. I look forward to another poop kiss when we meet again, someday.



  1. What a great connection! It's priceless to be close to a grandparent growing up! Beautiful memories!

  2. my grandparents all lived far away and passed away too soon. i already have ideas in my mind of the grandparent I want to be. this was very touching. thank you for sharing.