As I was thinking about Sweetpea today, and what a privilege it is to be called “Grandma,” my own Grandma came to mind -- my maternal one, whose name was Rose. Like Sweetpea is to me, I was her first grandchild – a little blond-haired, blue eyed girl (sounds familiar).
I remember Grandma as a lady who looked at life with an intensity and seriousness that I couldn’t understand. On the other hand, she had a wry sense of humor, often saying what others only thought, and thereby bringing laughter, and endearing her, to all who knew her.
Grandma Rose was born in France, and came to America as a very young child. She crossed the ocean with her mother and two sisters, her father and brother having preceded them on this great American adventure. Her life wasn’t easy. Her brother died soon after moving to America. Her mother soon passed away, as well, which meant that Rose was needed at home, and had to quit school before she was out of the elementary grades. She married a man she loved dearly, but about a year after the birth of their daughter (my mother) she lost him in a sudden, accidental death. She lived through the Great Depression. She was no stranger to uprooting her family and moving, as she worked hard beside her second husband (whom I knew as Grandpa) in a series of logging camps, where he was the camp cook and baker. She moved with Grandpa to Alaska, in the early days when the Territory of Alaska was still a rough gold mining frontier, to help him open and operate a bakery. And then she outlived Grandpa, watching him suffer through a very painful and difficult death from cancer.
Life taught her to save her pennies, and to be wary of banks. She never had a checking account, so paid all of her bills in cash. She preferred keeping her spare money at home – in jars, flower pots, or other niches – and sometimes forgot just where she had stashed it . She never learned to drive, so walked everywhere, carrying her groceries home in paper sacks, and dropping off envelopes of cash, along the way, to pay her utility bills. She worked hard and saved more money than seemed possible. After she retired, she moved to the Pioneer’s Home in Anchorage, Alaska, where she was known as one of the most energetic and sharp minded residents. She took up some hobbies there, including painting and firing ceramics, and playing pool! Having spent her life walking, she was in amazingly good shape for her age, and was still an avid walker. Her heart, however, finally gave out in 1990 (when she was almost 90 years old), and she passed rather quickly, leaving a great hole in our hearts.
Grandma spoke English with a slight accent, because her first language had been French, and sometimes got English words confused. She used to lock up the bakery at night, saying that there wouldn’t be anyone “but a few stranglers” (meaning stragglers) coming in this late. And she waited eagerly, each month, for her “long jeopardy” check (referring to Alaska’s Longevity Bonus check).
Here are a few things I remember about Grandma:
She promised me a silver dollar if I could blow a bubble gum bubble as big as my head. I don’t think I ever really did, but she gave me the silver dollar anyway.
When the mailman would bring a letter from Grandma, there would usually be a shiny dime taped to it, for me.
Every Easter she gave me an Easter basket, complete with jelly beans and a little stuffed chick, duck, or bunny.
She liked to cook. She always thought she could make a dish better by changing the recipe. Sometimes the magic worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
She always had pretty bottles filled with colored water on her windowsills.
She kept her apartment very warm.
She scolded me once, when she found my fingerprints in a container of ice cream at the bakery. “If you want ice cream, you come and tell me! I’ll give you some!”
She did her laundry with a wringer washer, and her hands smelled of Clorox on wash day.
She was always neat and clean, and wore lipstick and a little “rouge.”
She adored our two children, her great-grandsons. She called Chris “Chrissy” and Tim “Timmy.” Only Grandma Rose could get away with that.
She had the softest skin, and her face felt silky. She told me it was because she used Oil of Olay.
And only now, having my own little blond, blue-eyed granddaughter, am I beginning to understand Grandma Rose better than ever before.