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My Grandmother’s Legacy

on April 29, 2013

I spent the weekend working in the yard and thinking about my grandmother.  It seems I think about my grandmother a lot lately.  I guess that is inevitable considering that we are living in her old house.  I think about her as I cook in the kitchen where she spent hours cooking, baking and canning.  I think about her when I look out the window and see the bird feeder she hung.  I walk into the living room and I see the spot where her piano used to sit.  I can see her sitting in her rocker in front of the window doing “fancy work” every evening.  As I said, I think about her a lot, but none more than as I was working in her flower gardens this weekend.  She loved those flowers and spent hours tending them.  The daffodils coming up in the front of the house.  The rose bush by the old wagon wheel.  The lilac bush outside my bedroom window.  I see touches of her everywhere which makes me think of her more.  The more I think about her the more I talk about her.  My children have heard more stories about their great-grandmother in the last six weeks than they have probably heard in their lives.  It helps that their grandparents are right here to help supply some stories too.  Some of them I didn’t even know.  The more we talk the more amazed I am at the lady she was.

My grandmother was the oldest of ten children.  There were actually thirteen (two sets of twins) but only ten lived past infancy.  When my grandma was 14 her mother gave birth to her youngest brother and never really regained her strength.  My grandma had to quit school in order to stay home and help her mom.  Two years later her mother passed away and at the tender age of sixteen my grandmother was left to manage the home.  A farm home.  With eight younger brothers and a little sister who wished she was a boy. No electricity or indoor plumbing and not much money.  She made and mended their clothes and then she washed them by hand.  She baked loaf after loaf of bread and cooked on a cook stove only to have her brothers come in and devour it in one swoop.  She loved her younger siblings and gave up all the “fun” stuff she should have been doing to take care of them.  For ten years until she was well to the age where people considered her an old maid.  Then she fell in love with my grandfather.  Her father forbid her from getting married (presumably because he didn’t want to lose his housekeeper) so, with the help of her aunt, my grandparents eloped.  Her father remarried shortly after that.

Of course getting married didn’t mean my grandma’s life got any easier. She married a farmer during the depression.   She made all their clothes, mended them and washed them by hand.  She cooked on cook stove. She raised chickens and geese.  She helped on the farm.  She gardened and preserved everything she could find. She worked hard and then worked some more.  They didn’t have electricity until my dad was in grade school.  Indoor plumbing didn’t come until they replaced the old farm-house with this house – in 1967.  (My brother was a baby then.)  This house that would now be considered small and too plain felt like a mansion to my grandmother when they moved in.  even though this house did make her daily chores a little easier she still worked hard.  Every day.  That is just the way she was.

She lost her cousin in World War 1 when his plane hit a mountain.  She worried as her two youngest brothers also fought in that war. She lost her younger son to a tragic drowning when he was only 21. Over the following years she lost more brothers to heart issues.  Each of those events took a piece of her heart but she continued on. She never looked back or dwelled on it.   I’ve only recently heard some of the details about these things from my parents. I can’t remember my grandmother ever talking about them much. That was also the way she was.

She was also my grandma.  The lady who would light up when her grandchildren walked into her house.  She always had a cookie and a hug.  She taught us all to play the piano.  She taught me to play the trumpet.  She helped with our various 4-H cooking and sewing projects.  She taught us to garden.  She fed us and took care of us on the few evenings when my mother had to work. She recorded our concerts on her old-fashioned tape recorder so she could listen to them again.  She clipped out every newspaper article in which we appeared.  She loved us with her whole heart and “grandmothered” us like no one else could.  That was just the way she was.

My grandmother passed away in 1994 just four days after our oldest daughter was born.  She hadn’t been feeling well for a while but she still managed, with the help of my mom, to can all the pears on her tree that year. (The tree I look at out the dining room window now.)  Even though she wasn’t feeling well she sent my dad out to see me and meet his new granddaughter. She sent my favorite homemade sticky buns, a can of her pears that my son loved and a pink handmade baby quilt.  I talked to her that day and she told me she’d felt well enough to putter in her flowers a little that day.  She expressed her delight over her new redheaded great-granddaughter (She loved red heads.  She did marry one after all!) and told me how much she loved me.  That night while she was getting ready for bed she fell to the floor from a massive heart attack.  As shocking and hard as that was at the time I’ve often thought in later years that it really was a blessing that she went so fast in the home she loved after spending the day doing things she enjoyed. She’d have chosen that if she’d have been given a choice.  That’s just the way she was.

The more we’ve talked about her the more I have realized what an incredibly amazing lady she was.  Her work ethic.  Her quiet strength.  Her fierce love.  Those were her legacies to us. I can only hope to grow up and be half the person she was.



7 responses to “My Grandmother’s Legacy

  1. What an incredible legacy! It would be such an honor to be spoken of (or written about) in this way someday!

  2. mummyshymz says:

    A wonderful tribute to your grandmother. 🙂

  3. Wow! This is so great! You know the thing that choked me up the most…her recording those concerts on that tape recorder. That for some reason really speaks volumes about her and how much she cherished her grandchildren. My grandma lived without indoor plumbing until she was in her 70’s and they moved into a house in town. I sit and grumble about all of the housework I have to do everyday and then I think about her and what she must have gone through raising 4 kids without water in the house. Your grandmother’s story really intrigued me and she sounds like the most magnificent lady!

    • wedelmom says:

      Thank you my friend. She was magnificent – of course I’m prejudice. 😉
      I do the same thing – grumble about all the work and then I think about her making soap and candles and washing clothes by hand…yeah…I’m a WEENIE!

  4. Sika says:

    Our grandmothers and grandfathers deserve all our esteem! There is nothing more to say.

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