Grandmothers

For Grandma and Grannie. With all my gratitude and love, always.

They stood beside each other at the hospital’s nursery window on the evening I was born.
For one I was the first grandchild.
For the other I was the first granddaughter, following five boys.
The other stepped back so the one could see me better.

I inherited the middle name of one.
I inherited the brown eyes of the other.

One had the name of a red jewel. Ruby.
The other had the name of a white flower. Lillie.

One was born the day after Christmas, in the year of the Lusitania sinking.
The other was born at Eastertime, in the deadly third wave of Spanish flu.

While a young teen, one lost her father to suicide.
While a young teen, the other assisted her midwife mother in delivering babies.

One graduated from high school at sixteen.
The other didn’t finish school, but completed home health certification when I was a child.
I attended her pinning ceremony.

One was married at twenty. She had three babies in three Octobers across nine years.
The other was married at fifteen. She had six babies by the time she was twenty-two.

One outlived two children.
The other outlived four.

One’s marriage lasted sixty-two years.
The other had three marriages. Although she didn’t believe in divorce, she divorced a violent man.
She was widowed twice.

One held me on her lap and read to me.
The other let me open all the bottles in her spice rack to inhale the fragrances.

One held me in her arms when I was a baby laboring for breath—rocking, singing, weeping, until my asthma subsided.
The other brought 7-Up when I was a schoolchild home sick with stomach flu, vomiting all day.

One learned how to drive under the instruction of her twelve-year-old son (my father).
The other learned how to drive in her fifties, as did her daughter (my mother).

One wrote me letters and kept diaries.
The other took me shopping when I needed shoes.

One played the piano. I sat beside her, harmonizing on all the old hymns in musty, well-worn books.
The other carried only Aigner purses. She bought my first one, as well as my first birthstone ring.

One gave me her prized antique locket.
The other gave me her mesmerizing floating opal.

One shielded her fair skin with a straw hat and long sleeves all summer.
The other’s olive skin just browned more in the sun.

One lived deep in the country, in a little white house that will forever seem to me a corner of Heaven.
The other lived in town, in a big house of mysterious angles and shadows, once nearly destroyed in a fire.
Both houses are gone, now.

One could make any flowering thing thrive. In the garden, the orchard, the African violets in her window.
So could the other. She resuscitated more than one of my houseplants.

One made the best collards I ever tasted, although the smell while cooking would knock you down.
The other made a glorious rum cake for holidays, although that first whiff upon removing the Tupperware lid would knock you down.
Both made killer potato salad.

One sent me money to buy an Easter dress every year until I was in my thirties.
The other randomly surprised me with things like satin boxes of Valentine chocolates and by coming to my school plays.

One went faithfully to church.
So did the other.

One told me I was a good mother and that she was so proud of me.
So did the other.

One battled dementia for a short while.
The other had open-heart surgery and battled diabetes and dialysis for years.

One died three days shy of her ninety-first birthday, in a nursing home.
The other died at eighty-one, in a hospital.

They sat beside each other one summer afternoon long ago, at my wedding.
They taught me everything about sacrifice and survival.
They walk with me for as long as I live.

Fashioned and faceted,
I am who I am
because of one
and the other.

My grandmothers, Ruby and Lillie, at my wedding.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approachOn Day 7, I am writing around a word beginning with letter g. “Grandmothers” came immediately to mind.

31 thoughts on “Grandmothers

  1. You painted such a beautiful portrait of your grandmothers, comparing and contrasting along the way. Each one shaping you for sure, in their own ways. And through them I get to know you better. Such a lovely post and the frosting on the cake was their photo at your wedding!

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    • That photo actually sparked the post, got me thinking of the profound contribution each had made to my life, and of my abiding gratitude. The structure of the post sort of developed on its own after I started writing. Thanks so much, Christine!

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  2. This is an incredible tribute to both of your grandmothers. While I love the format of compare and contrast, I adore the love that eludes from all of your words about strong women who showed their love in their own ways. I love how they showed you how to love and to live through all the times of our lives.

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    • Thank you so much, Anita – they faced whatever they had to face and endured, although I don’t know if they would have thought of themselves as “strong.” They carried on and they carried their own along, in so many ways. I am fiercely proud of them – no words suffice for how grateful. I needed them both.

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  3. There’s that word – always! “With all my gratitude and love, always.” I feel like I would recognize Ruby and Lillie from this lovely portrait. What a gift to have two grandmothers (from someone who only knew one granny).

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    • Yes – I was intentional with that “always,” Ramona – delights my heart that you caught it. Also, they’re both wearing “blue.” In the end, all things connect. ❤️

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  4. This is beautiful. I’m struck by how big a part they played in your life. So many moments. One of my grandmothers lived in Sweden, and I only saw her five times in my life, though she lived to 99. I can remember all five times vividly, but mine would be a very different poem (fewer stanzas!). I also loved the way these stanzas showed those sacrifices. To outlive two and four children is a lot for a parent to endure. This is inspiring.

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    • They endured a lot, my grandmothers, and I am thankful I know so much of their stories; there’s power in them that strengthens me in whatever I face. If they could endure… so can I, in circumstances not nearly as hard. One of Grannie’s four lost children was a baby who died not long after birth. She told me: “I have never forgotten him. I was so empty, going home without him.” She mourned him all those years and as much as she did the others who died in their fifties. My grandmother never recovered from the sudden death of my father, just as he was about to retire. She declined quickly after that. Lots more stories to tell all around but – I am delighted you are inspired to write of your own grandmothers! Living to 99 – incredible. I am so looking forward to reading your Slice, and thank you for your words here.

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  5. Oh my. This is beautiful and moving. These memories captured are a treasure for today and the future. I loved the way you compared and contrasted throughout this piece. Particularly the line “so did the other” which at that point was unexpected and profound in it’s simplicity.

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    • It developed once I got going – I had to go back and make sure there was “one” and “the other” which wasn’t in my mind at the outset, but helped make it clear which was which. Thanks so much for this lovely response.

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  6. I was almost in tears, reading these paired stanzas. There is so much love and thought evident in this Slice, maybe more than I’ve read from you before. And it makes me a bit sad, too; my military BRAT upbringing did not allow for this kind of relationship with my extended family. You were blessed by knowing these women as intimately as you did.

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    • Not a day passes that I don’t think of them and remember something or wish I could ask the millionth question that’s come to mind. They were – they are still – among my greatest blessings. They were just always there and it was years before I thought about how vastly different my life would have been without them. I needed them both. Thank you for these heartfelt words, Chris; they mean much to me!

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  7. What a loving tribute you write here, Fran. And you take such care to humanize these incredibly strong, formidable women in your life. Which we don’t often do with our grandmothers. And here’s what I can’t walk away from. You, Fran. YOU are a grandmother. A strong, formidable woman in MANY people’s lives. And just as I think on and wonder if your grandmothers knew how deeply their stories rippled through yours, I can’t help but think if YOU know how deeply YOUR story echoes in others…

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    • I spent a lot of time thinking about their lives, Lainie. They were born in WWI, young during the Depression, raised families during WWII. Their lives were marked with hardships and loss. Yet in my lifetime, they were grace and stability and joy. I do not think they thought of themselves as strong and I KNOW they weren’t always confident; but they always loved fiercely and poured themselves into others. I am a beneficiary of that and the older I get, the more grateful I am for them and their profound influence. I’ve thought, if they endured what they did, then I can endure ____ (fill in the blank). It’s almost scary shoes to fill, but makes me ever-more mindful that our stories are gifts. Chapters read, and new ones beginning. Thank you for being part of it, Lainie, you and your words. ❤️

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      • All the YES here. I don’t think anyone who endures hardship sees themselves as strong or formidable or anything other than a person who just puts one foot in front of the other because that’s, quite honestly, what life sends our way.

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  8. I love the back and forth – comparison, but not really. One of my grandmas was one of my favourite people in the whole world. The other not so much. 🙂 But they certainly lived interesting lives. One was a journal writer so I have a lot of her story that I can read whenever I want. The other not so much. I know very little about her, even though we saw her regularly when I was growing up. Maybe this will inspire a future slice for me!

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    • I hadn’t planned that comparison/contrast structure when I started writing, but I did know I wanted the piece to move quickly, so that meant short lines vs. paragraphs. Your grandmother stories sound intriguing – I do hope you will see where the inspiration takes you in writing of one – and maybe the other!

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  9. Fran, what a beautiful and heartfelt tribute this is to your grandmothers! A great /g/ word. I love how you brought them to life sharing their similarities and differences. Their love for you and your love for them shines through. I see you in them. Your whole poem moved me; these lines especially stood out for me:
    “One held me on her lap and read to me.
    The other let me open all the bottles in her spice rack to inhale the fragrances.”
    Your poem made me think of my grandmothers; I was also fortunate to spend time with them and learn so much from both, which I am grateful for. Then, I thought of my daughters’ grandmothers and their relationships. I only have grand kittens, but I look forward to grandchildren. Thank you for sharing your Grandma and Grannie with joy.

    PS You mentioned you inherited your brown eyes from one. I’m curious if your granddaughter’s blue eyes come from your husband passed to your son, or do her blue eyes come from her mother or…

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    • Thank you, Gail. When I came across that photo last week, I knew that I needed to write about – and for – my grandmothers. I needed to acknowledge who they were and the gift they still are. Grand-kittens – too cute! I have several grand-dogs who are as excited as children to see me, lol. I spoil them, too. My granddaughter came into our family just after she turned three, so DNA isn’t a factor, but: her coloring and even the shape of her eyes are so like my father’s family, and her mannerisms so like my son’s that it’s breathtaking. She was born a hundred years to the month after Grandma, Daddy’s mother. There’s exactly the same age difference between Grandma and me as between me and my granddaughter. -Meant to be:)

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  10. Oh what a lovely slice about two wonderful ladies…you were so privileged, both my grandmothers died years before I was born, one so sadly in childbirth (my mum was 9) and one ?, they were both at least a generation older than yours. So many people write about lovely grandmothers and I wish I had had some kind of role model, now that it’s my turn….
    They do sound like very tough resilient and yet gracious women!

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    • So sad, the loss of your grandmother in childbirth when your mom was just nine. Even the stories influence us to an extent we cannot imagine…as to becoming a grandmother: I find it a lofty and serious thing, walking in the shoes of my grandmothers, knowing the far-reaching impact – but at the same time, incredibly freeing. It’s the most unique position of all, getting to be part of the color and wonder and joy in a child’s life. My grandmothers were a dependable safe haven, and I always knew that. Many thanks for your words!

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  11. I know my heart will be in for a journey when I open your posts. How blessed you were to have your grandmothers close by. Both of mine lived a long road trip away. They were two remarkable women and this is international women’s day. Perfect post!

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    • Ah, Elsie – thank you for the words about my post being a heart-journey. That gives me joy. My grandmothers surely never saw themselves as “remarkable” but I know they were; they deserve to be honored and my hope is that they would feel so by this piece. I love that it coincides with International Women’s Day. Thank you so much.

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