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?


  1. Jennie

    June 23, 2008

    Cream of Wheat with a straw?!! It makes sense and yet it still seems so strange. My kids would probably dig it.

  2. Wendy

    June 23, 2008

    I love lumpy Cream of Wheat.

    Most of my memories around my dad’s mom are around food. She grew up on a farm in Minnesota. Though she wasn’t LDS, she was a full Swede, and I never did like her orange jello salad with shredded carrots and pineapple. She made the best fried chicken in the world, the best mashed potatoes and gravy, and the absolute best cinnamon rolls. Other memories from her home include doing the Hokey Pokey, singing with some old records: “I went to the animal fair” and “working on the chain gang,” playing tiddly winks, and using real potatoes for Mr. Potato Head. Legacy wise, she and my grandpa danced from their dating days until they were too weak to dance anymore.

    My mom’s mom had more sadness to tell about, rough marriages, mistreatment by her parents, etc., but what I try to remember most was her strength. She worked herself through part of college (U of U), and left Utah with a friend to move to California. I think she was very social and with-it, until her second husband came into the picture and, being the jealous type, put up a big fuss against friends. Still, she kept her mind and body sharp and active with exercise, home maintenance, cross word puzzles, reading and artistic crafts. I think when she was 87 or 88, she painted her porch to get it ready for moving in with my parents. She played a mean game of Samba (kanasta?) until the very end. Most of all, I think, she was one of my best cheerleaders. Even during her unhappiest times, she was always encouraging, praising and supportive.

    Striving to build on their legacies . . . I am no culinary goddess, but I do try to be positive, supportive, and strong, and I love music and dancing. I hope to pass on their stories, the positive and the hard stuff. They were good women.

  3. Dalene

    June 23, 2008

    Jennie–kids will eat/drink almost anything from a straw.

    When I went to Finland I discovered a dessert made from Cream of Wheat that is a family favorite. Essentially you cook the cream of wheat in some kind of tart berry juice (I use cranberry), then you whip it for what seems like an hour. Then you serve it with cream. It’s the only way I can eat Cream of Wheat.

    Wendy–thanks for your great comment. I love that your one grandmother played Mr. Potato Head with a real potato and that you did the Hokey Pokey together. As for your other grandmother, I think there is a special place in heaven for those people who are good cheerleaders. Thanks again for sharing a bit of their stories.

  4. Emily M.

    June 23, 2008

    Both of my grandmothers have struggled with their health recently. My dad’s mother hiked Timpanogos almost every summer, into her seventies. I remember hiking it with her when I was about ten, getting up to Emerald Lake, and then hiking back in pouring rain. She was also a champion Scrabble player, and could beat her UCLA-doctorate daughter at it. My other grandma is just graciousness personified. On 9/11, I went to her house for a fried green tomato party. When I see her now, I am still struck by the expert way she focuses conversation on other people. She loves my kids, her great-grandkids (so does my other grandma). It brings me joy to watch them when I’m with her, because seeing them every day I forget how precious they are. But when one of my grandmas thrills over my kids’ cuteness, I see them more clearly.

    During my first pregnancy, I ate a ton of Cream of Wheat. That and apples were all I could stomach. But I am not that good at keeping lumps out, and I haven’t made it for years. Great essay, though!

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