10 Characteristics I Didn’t Appreciate About My Grandmother
10 Characteristics I didn’t appreciate enough about my Grandmother…until I was a grandparent myself.
I’ve written about my grandmother many times but it occurred to me that there were some things I didn’t (and couldn’t) appreciate fully about her until I was a grandmother myself. As I get older I realize that a lot of her best qualities were things I couldn’t appreciate when I was younger because I just wasn’t wise enough. With age does come wisdom and although I always knew she was a wonderful grandmother, now I see that she was truly a unique individual with very admirable qualities that anyone would do well to emulate.
She treated all her children and grandchildren the same. If Grandma Layne (as we affectionately called her) had a favorite grandchild she didn’t show it. I have seen families where this isn’t the case and it causes jealousy and conflict. If you are familiar with the story of the twin brothers Esau and Jacob in the Bible you know what I’m talking about. Playing favorites just doesn’t work in families. It didn’t work for Jacob and Esau and it still doesn’t work today.
She never gossiped. I asked her once how she did it. “Grandma, you never say anything bad about anyone. How do you keep your mouth shut?” She smiled her little smile and said, “Sometimes I can’t control what I’m thinking.” Sometimes I can’t control my thoughts either but often my thoughts fly out of my mouth before I can stop then. She knew how to control her tongue. Her motto was, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And she lived by that. Amazing.
She was humble and had a servant’s heart. When she first married my grandfather (who was over a decade older than she) they lived with my great-grandmother who became an invalid and was confined to a wheelchair. She helped take care of her mother-in-law (known to me as Ma) until she died at the age of 96.
I can not imagine the challenges she faced. What young bride today would live in a tiny farm house and care for her mother-in-law while raising 3 children and working on the farm? Women of Grandma’s day and time had to be made of steel. She lived through the Great Depression and didn’t have any modern day conveniences. Everything they had they grew or raised themselves.
The house was like most old farm houses; hot in the summer cold in the winter. It wasn’t insulated and the only warm place was near the wood stove or beneath a heavy stack of blankets. Back then there was no television. No telephone. No money for any trips or vacations. Entertainment was conversation and reading a book (if you could stay awake after working all day). They pumped water for cooking and washing clothes. Made their own lye soap for scrubbing and every Monday was Grandma’s day to haul the laundry outside to a shed where she washed each piece by hand.
She couldn’t go to a store and buy clothes so she sewed her children’s clothes out of whatever material she could find. Momma had some dresses that Grandma had made from feed sacks for her when she was a little girl. Christmas gifts were oranges and some nuts and maybe if you were lucky a stick of peppermint. On Saturday nights they all took turns bathing in a tub of water in kitchen. They didn’t have indoor plumbing but they did have an outhouse (it was a two seater….which I have never understood. Why would you want a two seater????)
Yes, they were poor but they had what they needed to survive. Their lives weren’t that different from other farmers who lived near them during that time period. If everyone around you is poor and you don’t have anyway of knowing about a different life you just accept it and deal with it, but looking back it seems like another world.
She didn’t take hardly any medicine and never drank alcohol. She did have blood pressure problems by the time she was in her 40s and had to take a pill for that, but anything else was taken care of by home remedies. Sore throat? She gargled with salt water. Cough? Warm tea with lemon. She didn’t spend the night in the hospital until she was in her early 80’s. Her babies were born at home and trips to the doctor were rare. My mother was a tom boy and she fell out of a tree and broke her arm when she was about 11 and Dr. Dunham (the town doctor) had to come set her arm in a cast. Other than that, they
took care of their own aches and pains.
She didn’t mind solitude. Grandpa died in 1976 and Grandma Layne lived until 2002. Most of those years she lived by herself but she never seemed to be lonely. She was comfortable being alone and even though her old and outdated television only got two channels (if the antenna was facing the right way) she entertained herself. She read a lot. I got books for her at the library and took them to her; she liked westerns the best. Her favorite book was the Bible and it was kept handy and close so she could work on her Sunday School lesson throughout the week. Often I would stop by and she’d be out on her porch sitting in a chair and studying her Bible. One day I snapped a photo of her and she was wearing her old flannel blue bathrobe. The picture was so precious I asked a local artist if she could paint it for me. She did and I had it framed. When I showed it to Grandma she said, “I wish you’d told me you were going to make my picture and I would have changed clothes. I’m wearing my bathrobe!”
She had a “saying” for every situation. If you had to do something over because you didn’t do it right then you had to “Lick your calf over.” If she saw a penny on the ground she always picked it up because “A penny saved is a penny earned.” And if someone commented that a young girl was pretty, she’d say, “Pretty is as pretty does.” I never realized how much I valued these words of wisdom until she was gone. To this day I can’t walk past a penny on the ground without picking it up. It just doesn’t feel right.
When life threw a curve ball at her she kept going. Grandma Layne didn’t remember her mother because she died when Grandma was about 3 years old. Her father died when I was about 8 years old and her husband died when Grandma was still in her 50s. In 1990, my mother, her middle child, died of colon cancer at the age of 51. The next year my mother’s brother, Grandma Layne’s oldest son, died of heart disease. Grandma weathered all these losses with dignity and grace. She mourned. Who wouldn’t? But she dried her tears and kept going and was a great comfort to others around her merely by being calm and steadfast through the storms of life.
She was a superb gardener and could grow anything. I look at plants and they wilt. Grandma (and my mother) had the ability to grow gardens full of vegetables. Meals in the summer months consisted of farm to table meals that I still miss to this day. If I close my eyes I can see her hands snapping green beans, silking corn or shelling butter beans. She could never walk by a weed and not stop to pull it out of the ground (I didn’t inherit that characteristic either). She loved flowers and always had petunias cascading over containers on her porch. All things grew well for my Grandma and when she was around, especially love.
Grandma never had a public job but she could outwork just about anyone. She had a work ethic that wouldn’t let her sit down and do nothing (unless the grandchildren were around). Even in her 80s she could still outwork women half her age. She didn’t exercise or ever work out but she was fit from years of working on the farm and in her home. Again, there was an inner strength to her that served her well all her life.
She loved with her whole heart and didn’t hold back. If she loved you, you knew it and she showed her love for you in a million different ways. Not with gifts or material things but by things like making sure you had your own special plate to eat on at her house when you stayed with her (mine had daisies and my brothers had red circles). She had a stack of Little Golden Books and she’d read you the same book over and over just because it was your favorite. She was a woman of great faith and loved her church family and her Lord. The goodness she found in her faith and that existed inside her heart radiated throughout her being. You could see her pure spirit just by looking into her eyes. There was an aura of peace surrounding her that you felt whenever you were in her presence. If you have ever met someone like her then you know how rare it is. If you were having a bad day just sitting next to her made you feel better. I don’t think I have ever felt as safe and secure again as I did when I was a child and sat with her on her front porch swing.
There are many more things about my grandmother that I love and miss. I was fortunate enough to have published a few books and I dedicated one of them to her. When I showed her the dedication page she didn’t say a word but a little tear slid down her cheek. I don’t think she ever fully realized the impact she made on my life or her other grandchildren.
Now it’s my turn to be the Grandmother (I’m Nana) and what an example I had! I hope I can live so that I can leave a legacy half as wonderful as the one she left me.