I should be visiting my grandparents today, but instead I am home, with my kids with a cold. Instead, I am finishing a story about my grandma, well a grandma at least but she sure seems a lot like mine. This story made me reminisce about the wonderful lady that she is. It made me think of the life lessons that she has taught me. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and mostly it made me wish that my grandmother was not starting to get tired.
Without further ado I introduce my grandma and the book: A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck.
I spent near as many dinners around her kitchen table as my own. She was quite the cook. I asked her one day how she became such a good cook and she said, “I just wanted to really bad, so I worked at it.” That’s how she lived life. If she wanted something she worked for it herself. She put in the time. Nothing was free and nothing was owed to her. She cooked to feed her family (and the neighborhood kids, and the people from out-of-town) not for show. I would put her pies, candy, bread or cakes up against anyone in town. One of the only things I see differently than the grandma in this book from my own. She would never cheat another. It didn’t matter if he was a “no good rascal”.
Grandma made us work. Sometimes we didn’t like it, but looking back now I am grateful for the time I spent with her. I spent many afternoons helping her bag and deliver “Peggy’s Ice”. I helped in the garden and in the yard. I learned some basic cooking skills and learned that dishes get cleaned right after dinner, “they are harder to clean if you let them sit and people will hang around anyway so you can still talk after your done.”
Grandma said what she thought. It took me a long time to learn that she didn’t mean to hurt others, she just didn’t like what they were doing. The thing is, she was so respected and well liked that they valued her opinion. Gossip didn’t often happen around her kitchen table, yet she knew everything about everything. I guess those were just conversations in honesty.
I remember one time when I ran away from home. I have no idea why, but I headed up to Grandma’s house. My mom quickly followed and I remember when my grandma opened the door she said, “She’s here, but I think she just needs a minute. I’ll bring her down the road in a few minutes.” She didn’t say anything to me, just gave me a few minutes, then she patted my back and said it was time to go home, and I went. I knew I could always trust her, that I mattered, and she would do anything for me.
We spent many nights at Grandma’s too. Sometimes it was planned but sometimes it was unexpected. On those nights, Grandma would pick out each of us one of her silky shirts and put them on us to sleep in. She called them “twirling shirts” and would have each of us a give her a good spin before she tucked us into bed.
I can talk to my grandma about anything. One time after I was telling her about a particularly selfish person, she said, “You don’t need to make room in your life for people like that. Really all that matters is family and love.”
She knows a lot about love my grandma. She tells you she loves you, but she also shows you. Most often this comes in the form of food at her table, but she also would sew things, or ask you to help her grab something from the storage so she could just talk to you and tell you she loves you. She always had ice cream and I can’t count the number of times she held my sprite while I took a sip through a straw when I was sick. If you were leaving town, she expected a call to know you got home, if she didn’t get one, she’d call you and remind you that “I was in a dither because I didn’t know how you got on. You make sure to call me okay.”
She also taught me about love in the way she loved my grandpa. She was always there. Always. She supported him, in the best way she could and that was in taking care of him. Grandpa said she didn’t like the tractor much, but that she liked to be with him, standing next to the fence watching him work the field. She helped drive the truck to get the cows on or off the mountain and she always made sure his belly was full. The ultimate care-taker.
Grandpa would do much of the fishing and hunting but I would not have put it past her to put on her overalls and take us illegal catfishing if it meant that we (or another) would have food on the table. She would just chalk it up to taking care of her people.
She taught us the broom trick in her kitchen when we were young. She did it then and showed us, not just told us. A few months ago when showing our own kids the broom trick in that same kitchen, she said, “well I think I can still do it, maybe I ought to give it a try.” We convinced her otherwise, but I wonder if probably she still could.
She loves animals, she hates them, she loves them. She always complained, but she is the lady that feeds the neighborhood cats. She still talks about Benji the weiner dog she had when we were young. She always let her kids rescue animals even though she said she wouldn’t this included dogies, goats, chickens, cows etc. etc. etc. She has a cow in her field that she can see out her back window that doesn’t have a hoof on one leg. He is a resilient cow who is still doing just fine. She tells me how sad it is to see that even in the world of cows, those that are different are left out. This black cow waits to eat last, often lays alone and just goes through life trying to get by. The cows in the field will one day be meat on the table, but grandma says, that one has to go to someone else because there is no way she can eat him.
I learned to play poker with buttons at her kitchen table. Spoons too. and hopscotch. She also showed me how to climb trees and what real sun tea tasted like. I learned to make candy in her kitchen. She fired me once, but last time I made taffy with her she said, “I am done firing people,” but she reached her hand over and took the spoon from mine and said, “but maybe I better take this right here.”
She’s a tough old bird. If I ever needed backup in a fight, Grandma would be the one to call. She loves me fiercely and wouldn’t hesitate to “box their ears” if she thought they deserved it. She’d pull out a paddle cutting board and pound it on her hand and say, “that’ll end that.” Sometimes I thought she was going to box my ears too. I had a hard time seeing disappointment from my grandma. I thought sometimes she was too hard on me. I think she just really saw that I could do so much more and that I should. She expected that of me, because I was hers, her genes made me after all. She didn’t want me hanging out with “rascals” and often asked “well why didn’t you do something else?” The older I get the more I understand. The more I love and respect her willingness to say the hard things. I admire her strength, her courage and her toughness. Too often I think I worry about how things will make people feel without realizing that the true honesty in life is just another form of love.
I love when she says, “Oh Hell.” Or when she says, “I love you.” She has been known, with her hands aside my face, to say “You are special, a very special girl, a very good mom.” She will say, “I am so proud of you, proud you are mine,” and most recently I even caught a “She can eat my shit” when someone made her feel sad. Like I said, she always says what she feels.
So to my grandma-World’s Best-thank you for your wisdom, your wit, your all around funny, loving, kindhearted self. I am so proud you are mine.
If you want to laugh at a grandma like mine, you really need to read this short, very quick read A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck available here.