Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dirt: Memories of my grandmothers


My daughters made a paper chain for our tree last night and it set off a chain of childhood  memories for me. I was taken back to when I was ten years old and my grandmother (Grandmomma) and I made a popcorn chain for her Christmas tree. 

That led me to thinking about all the amazing things I know how to do, thanks to my grandmothers (Grandmomma ,Grannie, Grandmother and Memaw).  I am who I am because of their love and the important things they shared with me. 

As a kid, my parents were divorced. I was two when their divorce was finalized. My father remarried that December and my mother the next year. I began the dance of the shared custody that many kids are very familiar with. My parents were young and as a result, I got to spend a lot of time with my grandparents. I loved my grandfathers, but my grandmothers were my world.

They could not have been any more different, but that worked out well for me.

My Grandmomma is still with us. She is the pillar of her church and really a pistol. She retired three years ago at the age of 81 from being the church secretary, mostly because I think she was grieving my grandfather.  She was 4'11 in her prime about 30 years ago. Now she is about 4'9", but her attitude  and extroverted personality made her about 6'5". 

She has tiny feet, so I could wear her shoes when I was about 9 years old. I rummaged through her closet and she let me wear her jewelry. She was not fancy at all, so her jewelry was small, like her. I also spent a lot of time trying on all of her lip gloss, trying out her combs and generally making a mess of her bathroom.
I now know she was patient beyond all belief as I spent a lot of time playing her vintage harmonica collection, perfecting my playing and making her sit for my concerts. She taught me how to boil eggs, how to grow a garden, and how to have an old fashioned Christmas. She is the popper of the popcorn. That same Christmas I learned how to crochet, and I made a chain for her tree as well. I thought it was the most beautiful tree in the world. We sang carols and drank cocoa, and she told me stories of being a girl during the depression. I know those stories still and a few years ago, got the more adult version of them. I look back at her and realize that she was just three years older than me when I was born, yet she has so much more patience than I do.

My other grandmother was a pistol as well, and knew  how to shoot one. 
She was wild and had my mother at 15, so she was young when I was born. She was my nude sunbathing, bikini wearing, country dancing Memaw. I loved being around her as she was the funniest person I knew and the most glamorous.

She made sure that my birthdays were super special, spending hours looking for that one important thing I had asked for. Thanks to her, I had designer jeans, a roll purse, a sweater with shoulder pads, and ankle boots (I am the child of the 80's). 
My step mother would have never have bought me any of that, so I think she took pleasure in buying it for me for that reason as well. We always went to Red Lobster and I drank Shirley Temples like the sophisticate I was trying to mimic.

Memaw was very into fashion, always had whatever was super cool in the way of high heels, clothes and especially makeup. She loved the " gift with purchase" and would always let me play in it. I wore loads of makeup when I was with her and lots of White Shoulders perfume. 
My sister got that gene from her, along with her sense of humor. 
I however, got the reading gene.She was a voracious reader and we would lie in bed reading til 2 am when I stayed with her. It was heaven.

 Being with her was always fun. I learned to cook, how to organize my address book, lots of dirty jokes, how to dance and how to paint my nails during my stays with her.  I learned about bras and she is the one who had THE TALK with me. She bought me a guinea pig and it lived with her for awhile. She took me to movie premiers and bought me my first real pair of cowboy boots, feeling both of these were important for a girl to be relevant as a teenager.

She had cancer and when it came back, she wrote down our family history for me. At the time, I was a ignorant teenager and did not appreciate what was happening or what she did. I lived with her the last year before she died, as the turmoil at my house was too much. I thank God for that time.

I was lucky, in that with remarriage, I got a third grandmother. She was my Grannie and loved me unconditionally, just as if I had been born into her family. I loved her with all my heart as well and spent a lot of time with her. She was a calmer person, which was something I needed in my life at the time.
 Going to her house was so calm and I learned the beauty of a routine. There were always cold cuts and 'Nilla Wafers. She was not the high strung glamor gal or the outgoing church lady. Instead, she was  a mother to five children, whom she loved unconditionally. The woman who prayed her rosary daily and took us little heathen to mass with the promise of gum if we were good. She  taught me to play dominoes and how to vacuum. I saw the office where she worked and the green house that she loved. I sat at the kids table in her kitchen as formed some of the best memories of my childhood there. The thing I took away from being her granddaughter was that family is the most important thing and feeding them is the best way to show love. 

I am a weird example of what family is. I am an only child with siblings. 

My mother divorced my step father, who became my Daddy when I was less than 3. So, when he remarried, his wife became my family as well.  As a teenager, my fourth and only Grandmother entered the picture. I have written about her before, but suffice it to say, she brought her A game to my life. I think about her often, for she was the person who made me think about what it means to believe in something enough to make a difference. 

I am a grown woman with two middle school daughters and I lean on those lessons I learned from four very different, but equally influential women.  As a mother, I have to temper all the fun things with discipline and rules.  They, however, had the license to be fun and the time to share the important things they had learned while mothering their own children, but at a more leisurely pace. Two of the three have seen or saw their great grandchildren and those were even more special, if that is possible, than the grandchildren they doted on. My children receive birthday books from my Grandmomma every year on their birthdays, usually they are relevant to things I have told her the girls are into at that particular time.

These women shaped me and my personality.
I experienced being the absolute center of attention from all of them, even though I had siblings and cousins to share the attention. I also learned skills and traits that have carried me into my adult years. I am a sentimental girl at heart, but I hate sappy cards, preferring dark and twisty humor. 
I am a Catholic like three of the the four, but I can sing the Church of Christ hymnal like it is my job. I love the old fashioned things about Christmas, including why the ornaments are special and why we have the same stockings our entire life. I put in a garden and try not to kill every house plant that comes my way (I usually fail). I love to cook and feed my family, but I also love to play game, drink and swear like a sailor. All of these things I learned, not from my parents, but from my time spent with my grandmothers.

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