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A Tale of Two Grandmothers

By Teresa Bruce

… I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother …” — 2 Timothy 1:5

Faith brought my grandmas together — but not in the way you might assume. Not because one’s son met the other’s daughter at church-owned BYU (although they did) and not because their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ joined the Western and Southern families (although it did). No, my grandmothers, Donna and Leone, met three decades before my parents did.

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I’ll be a grandmother soon.

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In the early 1930s, young Donna left Utah (and her waiting sweetheart) to serve a Southern States mission in North Carolina. With no assigned missionary companion for most of her time there, she roomed with a family in the local church branch. The household’s three daughters, including Leone, filled in as Donna’s rotating, substitute companions. At the end of her mission, Donna and her Carolina sisters half joked that someday they’d arrange their children’s marriages and become family as officially as they already felt.

Donna married Owen in the temple. Their trio of children were ages three through seven when Owen froze on the side of a mountain in an unseasonal snowstorm. Widowed Donna went back to school. She became a teacher then a principal then a publisher’s representative and finally taught English in Japan. 

Leone married David, who allowed her to take their two children to one church activity per week and forbade their baptisms until they were nearly adults — “old enough” to know what they were getting into. For pocket money and the ability to pay tithing, Leone took in sewing alterations and baked for weddings and other occasions. At one time, she served as the clerk in her branch.

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Grandma Leone’s house was redolent with sugar, butter, vanilla, and almond extract. She conjured tiered wedding cakes taller than (and almost as broad as) herself. Rose-shaped, hand-molded candies left her hands smelling of peppermint. Every weekend, between Sunday school and Sacrament meeting, Grandma served pot roast and potatoes or poultry and stuffing. After church ended for the day, we returned for hot dogs with chili and slaw, crunchy chips, and soft drinks while watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney. When my cousins visited, Grandma made not one dessert but three to indulge us each with our favorites. (I’ve yet to find a cherry-topped cheesecake or a pie crust equal to hers.)

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My mom, just out of high school and still years from motherhood, went to BYU carrying her mother’s blessing, her father’s reluctant acquiescence, and the contact information for her mother’s Carolina–Utah sister. The first time Donna invited Leone’s daughter to dinner, Donna’s youngest son was away. (Donna asked Mom to make biscuits the way Donna remembered them tasting in the South, but Leone had done all the cooking while Mom grew up.)

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At Grandma Donna’s house, it took all day to fill every horizontal surface with swirls of rising — then baking and cooling — yeast dough rolled around honey-cooked raisins and dates. She gave away most of the frosting-topped cinnamon rolls. I’d have worried whether I’d get any except for Grandma Donna’s Rule: “If you help make it, you may taste it.” She delighted in asking, “How many ingredients for this meal do you think came from our garden?” For special occasions, she prepared a thick and pungent, orange-red, shrimp cocktail appetizer served in fancy glasses, and from her stores of home-bottled preserves she offered deep, neon pink maraschino cherries with dessert.

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Mom and Dad met through mutual friends at BYU and dated several times before realizing their mothers’ Carolina sister connections. By then, each had decided the other was The One. (They agreed it never would have worked if their mothers had set them up.)

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Grandma Leone sewed quiet books and stuffed them with Cheerios to keep me occupied as a toddler at church. When I was seven, we moved into a house only a few blocks from hers. She showed me how to write my initials in a cool, interlocking way and taught me word-search puzzle strategies.

Grandma introduced me to the ceramic shop where everyone knew her. She shared her entire collection of delicate detail brushes and paints — even the shiny, metallic jars I took for real gold, silver, and copper — as she encouraged my untrained hands. I’m told she had a sharp wit, but from my eleven brief years with her, I recall only a sometimes mischievous twinkle in her eye — and her love.

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Grandma Donna lived far away; I saw her seldom, but she too introduced me to people and places she loved via early picture readers and then The Island of the Blue Dolphins, Anne of Green Gables, and Pollyanna. Her books whetted my appetite for more.

The first woman elected to her city council, she told me she learned something from everyone she met —if only to behave differently. She said her morning prayers on the run, jogging even in her upper 70s. She taught inmates to read and write, though I didn’t know it until, pregnant with my second child, I attended her funeral where a man credited her with changing his life.

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With that second child’s first baby coming soon, I’ve wondered how I’ll measure up as a new grandmother. My grandmas both lived their faith and loved me.

Little One, we’ve not yet met, but I promise to do the same.

 

How have grandmothers influenced your life? Can you offer any advice for this new grandma?

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About Teresa Bruce

Teresa TL Bruce burrows into stories for work and fun. She’s published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids, Florida Writers Association Collections, Florida State Poets Association anthologies, Segullah's Seasons of Change, and Orlando's The Community Paper, and she was a finalist in NYC Midnight’s 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge. Teresa advises “What to Say When Someone Dies” on TealAshes.com. She’s proudest of her three dynamic daughters, super sons-in-law, adorable grandchildren, and spoiled rescue dog.

5 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Grandmothers”

  1. what a lovely story! As my 95 year old grandmother nears death, I find myself wishing that I'd had more one on one time with her–it's always been big group gatherings with lots of cousins, but less of a personal relationship. So I'd try to cultivate that, without stepping on the toes of the new mom. I already have plans to do Grandma Camps (themes: ancestors, scriptures, and Harry Potter) when I get to that stage 😉

    Reply
  2. ACW, thank you for sharing your poignant insight as you prepare to say goodbye to your grandmother. I'm sorry you didn't get to develop the degree of personal relationship you wish you had with her.

    I appreciate your suggestion to cultivate one-on one-time, and the idea of Grandma Camps sounds like a great way to have fun together.

    Reply
  3. I enjoyed this very much. Beautiful writing.
    I can only second what others have said about cultivating one on one time.
    Best wishes to you, new grandma!

    Reply

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