I may be one of the only “senior citizens” lucky enough to have attended functions with her grandmother. Mom was usually there, too and everyone was always properly amazed and enthused over how lucky we were to have such a healthy, long-lived family. As a salute to Mother’s Day next week, I thought I’d enlarge on the family a little and Grandma in particular.
Grandma was born in 1895 after her family had moved from Kansas to the Pacific Northwest. She had three sisters and three brothers and a brood of “double cousins” as neighbors so while it was not an easy life as we know it, it was full of childhood fun and camaraderie, according to Grandma. She grew up on a farm, and preferred the outside chores to doing housework. She told me once that she and her dad were always arguing about her wearing her brothers’ trousers to work outside instead of a skirt like a proper girl should. One of her nephews told me that Grandma and her father were at odds most of the time but when it was necessary for Great-Grandpa to go live with a member of the family in the early 1940s, he chose to go to Grandma’s, and she encouraged him. The nephew laughed and said they were so much alike it would have been a shame to upset two households.
Because they farmed with horses until Grandma was 20 or so, she believed that automobiles and all gasoline powered farm machinery were the greatest boon to mankind ever. Teddy Roosevelt was the greatest president (this was expressed in the 1990s, so she’d had experience!) and she was very proud of the fact she’d voted in every election since women earned the vote.
Grandma didn’t marry until 1919, when she was nearly 24. At that age, most of her contemporaries were raising their second or third child, but Grandma waited out the war, and then she married an older man: the brother of one of her friends. No one knows why she waited (and she wouldn’t tell). She was pretty and ambitious and eligible. At any rate, she was nearly 25 when Mom was born.
Grandma was a constant in my life. My paternal grandmother had also been a loving presence but she died when I was eight, so Grandma duties fell exclusively to mom’s mother. She taught me to sew, helped me learn to cook, played dominoes with me when I was bored, and generally got me through the mother/daughter angst by listening quietly then firmly suggesting that “someday you’ll know” (and of course she was right!).
Because she spent her entire life in the area where she was born, in her later years she was honored as a pioneer many times at community celebrations and various organizations of which she was usually a charter member. She was acknowledged as a great cook, especially applauded for her pies and recognized for her quilting skills, both as a craftsperson and as a teacher. Her quilts were used as prizes at raffles around the country and she was sought out as a teacher when the younger generations wanted to learn to make quilts.
We used her birthdays as our excuse for family get-togethers, partly because it was in the summer so we could all be there, and partly because she liked a party as well as any of us. Her 85th birthday was the same year as graduation from High School of some of the kids who stated they wanted a Family Reunion as their only gifts. Grandma’s 90th coincided with some new babies in the family that needed to be introduced. She always favored us with some pithy comment about the family, but the most enduring one, the one we ALL remember and quote, is from her 100th birthday bash, when my cousin asked how much champagne to buy and she said “I don’t know. All MY friends drink beer.”
One fall, we assembled SIX living, sequential generations, a feat that doesn’t happen in many families.
Divorce has separated the family, as it often does these days, from our oldest granddaughter. When she married and had children my grandmother often asked if we “were ever going to see that girl in Texas.” One September we contrived to get the family from Texas to the Northwest at the same time Hubby and I would be visiting from Alaska. We didn’t tell Grandma, who was 103 then, until that day that her great-great-great grandchildren would be present for fear something would prevent their visit.
The impromptu reunion was way too short. The Texas contingent met more family than they knew existed and ‘lots of grandmas’. Many pictures were taken of the six generations. My Grandma smiled a lot and told her great-great granddaughter, “I thought I’d never get to see these babies!”
Grandma died in March, 2000, nearly 105 years old, still alert and telling me family stories. She lived a long and varied life I never tired of hearing about. My life was richer with a grandmother present into my so-called “senior years,” and I rejoice that my children and grandchildren also knew her. I hope, when I welcome my great-great-great grandchildren, my granddaughters will say the same.
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.