A writing friend of mine wrote a lovely blog about how her family connections were often wrought through handcrafts full of painful yet loving stitches. Then Gwen Tuinman linked those moments to her writing. Beautiful, I thought, and wrote a comment.
From that exchange between friends comes the idea for this post. How fitting to write about my grandmother today (Tuesday) on International Women’s Day.
I come from capable stock. And I write about a fictional couple named for and based on my paternal great-great-great grandparents.
My mother’s mother, however, was the only grandmother I knew growing up, but she was a quiet and sweet force in my life. She didn’t know how to knit and was terrible at sewing, her stitches all ragged and jagged. She made a stab at a pseudo quilt for me which was layers of flannelette tied every few inches with bright red yarn. I loved it and kept it on my bed until I married and left it behind for my sister.
Grandma’s hands were better used for making cookies whose aroma welcomed us home from school when she was there to care for us while my parents were traveling. Peanut butter and date-filled oatmeal were her specialties and her Dutch apple pie from her Pennsylvania Dutch background disappeared in a wink with my many brothers and sisters anticipating it so much we’d all finish our first course with not a whimper so great was the reward.
And she was funny. One night after supper she disappeared for a bit and returned, all five feet of her dressed in my father’s overalls, as though she was going to go milk cows. The legs were rolled up about a foot and a half so she could walk and she could have put my little brother inside the waist part, so loose was it. I’m sure Dad must have wondered what happened to the straps when next he tried to pull them over his shoulders.
I never heard from Grandma about the sadness in her life. When my mother was eight years old, my grandfather stepped out with another woman. The marriage was over and my grandmother married again, this time to a man who did the grocery shopping with two sets of items for Grandma to store when he came home: the big beautiful oranges were for him and we were not to touch them. The small, wizened things were for Grandma. I never forgot that.
Yet Grandma filled our lives with love, earned money for herself scrubbing floors and caring for others, and carried on. After she died I got the diary she had written during the war. Filled with notes about family joys and packing boxes to send overseas to her soldier son, that book captured my Grandma. Then came her telling of the day she got the news. Her Frank, stationed in Italy near Montecchio, was dead. My Uncle Ernie came to tell her and found her
packing a box for Frank. (The news had come first to Frank’s wife, another brave and lovely lady.)
No, she couldn’t quilt or sew and burned almost every time the first tray of cookies she made when she visited us. That beautiful soul, however, remains with me still as the epitome of kindness and unfailing love. Her hands were well-suited to holding babies and soothing hurt feelings. She even took me fishing in the stream by her house, digging the worms and then threading them on the line. Yuk! I can’t say I’ve done that for my own grandchildren.
How many women are out there today whose lives amount to thousands of things done for others with little complaint? Here’s to all of them and to my women readers who support me so well. I just want to remind them all to fill the quilt of their lives with things for themselves as well as others. Happy International Women’s Day!
Elaine Cougler’s website: www.elainecougler.com
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