Have you read the latest issue of Segullah yet? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. Lori Nawn’s beautiful essay, “Cream of Wheat” caught my eye because I grew up absolutely loathing Cream of Wheat. I realize now we must have been eating (or, in my case, gagging on) the instant kind.
But I absolutely love Lori’s reminisces about her dear grandmother. And they brought back such fond memories of my own grandmothers.
We used to visit my dad’s family every summer during branding season. And, like Lori’s grandmother, my grandmother must have spent hours laboring over her stove to feed all of us. I best remember the early-morning breakfasts; meals worthy of any hardworking ranch hand. (I also remember attempting to eat mutton for dinner. Ewww!) My favorite memory of spending time in Grandma Rex’s kitchen was when she would make her whole wheat bread. As she would divide out the dough before painstakingly shaping it into perfect loaves she always pinched off a section and hand it to me so I could make my own miniature loaf. I remember how I would sneak a taste of the dough when she wasn’t looking–even though the yeast tasted kind of rotten and it often left me with a bit of a belly ache.
One of my favorite stories about my grandmother is how one night she and my second grandfather attended a country music concert at one of the local universities. She must have been well into her 80s at this time (she is now almost 91 and still going strong). It was winter and the weather was simply awful, but that would never have stopped her. On their way into the concert my grandmother slipped on some ice on the walk and fell. Both she and my Emerson went down and both were injured. The events staff tried to arrange medical attention and transportation for them to go home. But my grandmother refused. She was determined to see the concert and would worry about her injuries afterwards.
That wasn’t at all surprising. Grandma Rex has shown that same kind of resolution and determination as a long-time advocate of POWs and MIAs, abused and disadvantaged women and children, and a number of humanitarian, political and patriotic causes throughout her entire life.
I didn’t have the opportunity to know my maternal grandmother very well until I was an adult and she and my grandfather sold their home in San Diego and moved to Utah after she retired. I remember one day in particular when I was impressed by a whole new side of her I’d never seen. While I knew she was an advocate of literacy (in the “olden days,” she used to send her grandchildren a nickel for every book they read during the summer), I was not aware of how much she enjoyed getting lost in a good book. In fact, I had never really observed her enjoying any leisure time. Just like my other grandmother, she was always busy taking care of everyone else.
One day while Grandma Jacobs was over to my house watching my children for a couple of hours, she happened to pick up a book I’d been reading. It was by one of my favorite authors, Willa Cather. To that point I’d been a bit of a literary snob and had been a bit put off that no one else in my family seemed to enjoy reading what I felt were the significant classics. So when I arrived home to see her curled up on my sofa with Willa Cather I was both surprised and oh so pleased. I sent the book home with her and followed up with a few more of my favorites before her eyesight made it too difficult for
her to read.
A few years ago I had the blessing to be able to spend several mornings a week helping her as she cared for my grandfather before he died. Words are insufficient to express the deep gratitude I have for the memories I have of that time. On days she wasn’t feeling well herself I would lovingly tuck her in her bed for a nap. On better days I would happily link my arm in hers and we would walk around the block together and talk. Now she is living alone in a retirement center just a few miles from my home and though I still see her, I am ridden with guilt that with the demands of my own family and a part-time job I don’t see her or my other grandmother nearly often enough.
Lori’s essay so beautifully sums up what strikes me most about the very different, but somehow similar lives of my two grandmothers:
Their tireless efforts had created a legacy of devotion and caring, both in and outside the family circle.”
Then Lori asks what for me is still a rather unsettling question, “What legacy would I leave?”
What are some of your best memories of your grandmother(s)? What legacies did they create in your family? Given that our lives are so different than theirs, how do you strive to build on their legacies?