She was never the warm fuzzy Hallmark Grandma that I thought I was supposed to have. I used to think maybe it was just me, but reconnecting with cousins in the past few years and actually starting to talk about our family I found out I’m not the only one who felt that way. I realize now I probably let that get in the way of appreciating who she really was.
When people ask if we were close, I can’t say yes, but then I don’t know if she was close with anyone. Or at least in the era that I knew her. But closeness is not the only measure of how another affects us. She was definitely a force in my life, in our family’s life, and she was always there. It took a while to sink in that she was gone. Even a year later it still doesn’t seem quite real. Of course it was not unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
I can’t think of her without thinking of the Ranch. The last phase of her life, in town – in the wheelchair, then bedridden – that is not really Grandma. So in some ways it was a blessing for her to go. I’m not sure what she hung on for. I’m don’t know how much she knew, towards the end there, but I don’t think she would have wanted to be like that. But she had a stubborn streak, maybe that’s what took over. She made it past 99, but not to 100, although I think some were hoping she would attain that nice round number. Part of me thinks that was her final tweak of doing it her way to go out before then.
She was an animal person, horses and dogs in particular. Somehow I never had that horse-crazy phase that many girls go through, but she would take us riding around the Ranch when we visited. She always had a dog. I found out later that many of these had started out their lives in town and were sent out to the country after they’d bitten someone. She never mentioned it, and I don’t recall there ever being any problems with any of the dogs, even when there were all us kids around.
Then there were the goats. I remember her feeding and milking goats in the barn, and bottle feeding the kids. There was even a portrait of one particular favorite. I’m not sure if she commissioned it or it came about in some other way. There were chickens and peacocks, and, for a while, guinea fowl. And cows, now and again – although that may be my faulty or selective memory. Oh, and donkeys, how could I forget the donkeys?
She was a reader. Also a game player – dominoes and Scrabble in particular – and she wasn’t going to cut us any slack just because we were kids.
She knew plant names. And had books that you could look them up in if you weren’t sure. Birds too, and the native plant and bird count people would have annual excursions to the Ranch.
Education was very important, and she provided financial support for family members to pursue higher education. She also helped out many non-family members and contributed to educational institutions. She made a point of attending graduations and other milestone events.
Mail came once a week, or maybe it was twice, to the row of mailboxes that was several miles away on the county road. Star Route, Box 47. I can still remember that, and have a recollection of getting her zip code by heart as well. At some point they got street addresses out there, that’s not quite so deep in the memory. Most packages would just get dropped off at the Junction, there was one service that would continue on and bring them all the way to her at the Ranch. I forget which it was now, but she really appreciated that and had nothing but good things to say about them.
Nothing fancy in the kitchen, but we never went hungry. Usually pretty straight up meat, starch, vegetables, but I also remember having ratatouille and tagliarini (or at least her take on them), which, now that I think about it, I’m not sure that I’ve had other places. Well we did get the recipe and once in a while make tagliarini at home.
BUT! There was always dessert at Grandma’s! Sometimes homemade – pie or apple crisp, sometimes store-bought – Mystic Mints, Gingersnaps, Pepperidge Farms Cookies. And Ice Cream! I never thought about her getting it out there, it was at least an hour to the store. Swiss Miss Cocoa, another treat, and See’s Candy at the holidays.
She made jam and jelly and apple butter, I can remember getting jars of various things, but can’t say for sure that I ever saw her doing it. Certainly don’t remember ever helping. Maybe we were considered too young, or it didn’t occur to her to ask for help or to us to offer.
As she got older she felt the cold more, and would stoke up the wood stove to the point the rest of us would be sweating in shirt sleeves. Then would want to know if we’d be interested in a cup of hot coffee. Um, no thanks, Grandma.
She was an only child, apparently the apple of her father’s eye, so probably no one would have been good enough for her, but she chose to marry a man they particularly disapproved of, for many reasons. One being that he was quite a bit older than her. In fact he died before I was born. There were some pictures of him around, but I don’t remember my Grandma ever speaking about my Grandfather. And I never thought to ask. I don’t remember anything about her parents or her childhood either. I don’t think any of it was bad, at least not more than the trials and tribulations we all have in life. Perhaps she just felt it was the past and what’s the point of talking about that?
Wait, I take that back. When her memory started to go – funny that’s the phrase – it was the recent stuff, short-term I guess it’s called (that there’s a kettle on the stove, not who I am but where I’m living now, and how long it took me to get there to visit – same questions I just answered) but then she started to tell stories from the past. With details like they were yesterday. OK, well maybe not her yesterday.
There was one about her having a long braid, that it sounded like she didn’t like and was mostly due to her mother. One day she and her father went to the barber shop and got it cut off. And just left it there at the shop, which additionally displeased her mother. I don’t remember if there was more to the story that they went back later after it and it was in fact already gone, or just that it didn’t occur to me until later to ask if they had gone back.
It was difficult to see her decline, and I didn’t go to visit as often as I could have. She got to a point where she wasn’t swallowing to take in nutrition, and then it was just a matter of time. I did get to see her one last time the evening she died. On the way home I thought we should her to the Ranch. My Dad called the next morning to say she had passed. I didn’t ask exactly when it was, I’d like to think it was when I was thinking about the Ranch.