I loved my paternal grandmother more than my maternal one, and perhaps more than my own mother. It was a source of contention between me and my mother, but I could not hide it. Actually, I DID NOT even attempt to hide it. My Grandma B and I had a bond that remained strong even when she died after a long time here on the planet.
When I was a toddler my mother became ill with Tuberculosis. In those days (yep, days of getting around in horse and buggy – snic) the accepted treatment for TB was confinement to a special isolation wing of a hospital. She was there for a very long time. I don’t know now exactly how long but I know it was more than 6 months – I could only see her on weekends, standing on the grass outside her hospital building where she talked to us from her second floor window. During that time my Grandma B took over the care of me, her first grandchild. When my mother was released she still needed help caring for me and so I looked to my Grandma B for just about everything.
Grandma B was sturdy and practical. She and her small family had come over from England when she was quite young but she never seemed to have an accent. She, her husband, parents and a few other family members settled in Seattle, and she lived in the same sturdy house until the very last years of her life. That house is where I learned to also be sturdy – to be self-sufficient and a hard worker.
From her I learned to “just do it”.
Her husband, my grandfather, died before I could know him, so the house was always referred to as “Grandma B’s place. We enjoyed many of the fruits of her labor together over the years: eating homemade bread spread with her crabapple jelly from the trees out back, enjoying pies made from the wild berries we picked from along dusty roads, chomping preserved green beans harvested from her summer garden, and more. She could make a light and flaky pastry crust that rivalled any I’ve had in the finest shops or restaurants. Those crusts enclosed berries or apples in pies, and savory steak and kidney pasties (hand held meat pies hailing from Wales). She put the strips of unused pastry dough, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, in the oven to bake for a special treat. Oh, the smells! She was quite talented at crocheting and tatting, adorning bed linens and household with intricate trim and other items. She could sew anything for anyone, and had supplemented her income over the years by sewing for the wealthy ladies of the Queen Anne Hill area. Grandma B wore an apron over her dress for most hours of every day. She donned white gloves to attend church or take a trolley into downtown Seattle. She could wield a hammer with efficiency. She pushed her own lawnmower.
Over the years she only spoiled me in one way: her love for and acceptance of me was seemingly unconditional. But if I misbehaved I would know her disapproval. That disapproval never felt like lack of love, but it felt worse than any slap or spanking could ever have impacted me. So I always strived to be the person my Grandma B expected me to be. Our bond of love was begun when I was but a baby but that bond endured miles and years apart from one another. We stayed connected by letter writing and occasional phone calls, but mostly on a more cerebral level. I say that because I always felt her presence in my life, no matter where I was. And her words played a refrain in the recesses of my brain forever: “Just do what needs to be done, Julie”.
Once I became a grandmother myself I felt pride and love, of course. Due to living far away from them I only had physical contact infrequently but certainly I enjoyed the little extensions of my family. I held my first grandson for the first time when he was barely a few months old. He was 4 years old when I next spent time with him, and I marveled at how curious and intelligent he was! ….Grandma pride, first experience.
He and I went for a short walk around the neighborhood where he lived. We encountered a gigantic ant colony along the side of the road on a vacant lot. As we both squatted down to observe and comment I recognized a keen mind at work, and felt proud of the son of my oldest son. That was when I also first met his little sister, my 2nd grandchild. We had very little time together though, and I did not see them both again for perhaps 3 or 4 years. Again, time together was brief. I always sent small gifts and notes in an effort to maintain a presence in their life and finally. As time went by, we spent days together during my short visits a few times each year. Despite being apart so much, those 2 grandchildren have always treated me with consideration and friendliness. I missed out on most of their lives, however, which always left a hole in my heart. I wanted them to feel a bond with me, as I did with my Grandma B.
But let me state right here: I never viewed myself as the typical grandma type who lives just to care for family, cook for family, clean for family, and tend the babies. I don’t wear “grandma clothes”. I don’t do “grandma hair”. I don’t join other grandmas for card games or sewing bees. I have lots more to do in life! My label is not “Grandmother”. That was my mindset, and still is in my mindset. But….
Soon, my middle son provided 2 more grandchildren – both girls. I was able to fly cross country and spend 2 ½ weeks of my PTO to care for the oldest when she was but 3 weeks old. By doing so, her mother was able to resume her year of medical residency and I was able to bond with the wee one. I was besotted. Given free reign, I hugged her to sleep in a rocker, kept her beside me while she slept, talked to her incessantly, and imprinted with the sweet smell of baby. In the years that followed I visited for a few weeks at a time twice each year: in the Spring for her birthday and again at Christmas. Until just last year, I was present for every Christmas of her life. Her younger sister was born a few years later so she too always had me present for every Christmas. Those are lucky girls, as their mother’s side of the family lives but a few hours away. The entire extended family shares lots of time together, spending nights, taking short trips, celebrating large and small events together. And despite the distance between us all I’ve always felt a part of it, and cherished the special bond we’d all developed. During the past year when I attempted to settle in my own home in their small town, we spent lots of time together in the kitchen, or crafting, or shopping, or attending their school events, Karate classes and tournaments. I began to recognize and appreciate the special grandma bond of love that developed. And to think: I was never even a “girlie girl”! But yep, shopping with them for girlie stuff turned out to be fun! My heart expanded with more happiness.
Now that I have relocated to New England that easy physical proximity is the one thing I miss the most from my former life. Fortunately those girls are electronically equipped with Kindle Fires, and also have access to a computer, so we frequently use Skype video chat as well as regular phone calls. I keep up on the latest school, sports, crafts, and social events that comprise the various elements of their lives. There is an unseen bond between us that I cherish more than I can describe.
It seems that despite whatever bonding I had with my grandchildren I still viewed them all as accessories, if you will. Not in a derogatory way, of course. I loved them, cherished their presence on the planet, and would always spend whatever extra money I could spare to buy special stuff for them. I liked conversing with them and listening to their take on the world. I love watching their learning and other accomplishments. I even enjoyed school field trips! All that seemed like a natural extension of my life. But I had more to learn…
Finally, with 4 grandchildren to my name, and a little grandma experience under my belt, I knew my heart would easily expand to welcome the youngest: my new grandson who is part of this household I live in. I was here before, during, and for a few weeks following his birth. Then I returned to Missouri to pack up and move here permanently, officially moving in when he was just over 2 months old. At that time he was still a limp little bundle of warmth to cuddle and hold and I was so happy to have the chance to do so. Along with his parents, his maternal grandmother, and huge extended family on his mother’s side, every little aspect of his life is appreciated and recorded. He is the first grandchild for my “Sistah-Grandma” aka the other grandma, and she makes the most of it. But lucky me! I see and hear and fully experience him every single day.
Yet, I still rejected the label of “typical grandma”. I didn’t yet get it.
My littlest grandson – now about 11 months old – sometimes reaches out to ME instead of someone else in the family. He rests his little head on my shoulder when he seeks comfort. He often looks to me for whatever reassurance he needs as he learns to stand, balance, and toddle. He dances with me. He smiles and waves his arms with joy at seeing me enter the room. He looks at me with unconditional acceptance and love. I am besotted.
I am a different grandma sort than I thought I was, and it feels OH SO GOOD!
I still do all the other things my life is built around, but I am doing it all in the haze of Granny love. My life is enhanced.
Being a grandma type is not the same mold for everyone. The common thread is whatever bond is developed between grandchild and grandmother. That bond can exist no matter what else is going on in life. And there is no magic formula, nor any set of rules to follow. It is all just a love thing.
I think I am feeling much like my Grandma B must’ve felt all those years ago. I hope I am now able to carry on in her tradition, leaving a legacy of loving memory with my own grandchildren. Certainly I had a great role model!