Grandma Mary

I’m not sure what my first memory of Grandma was. A lot of my early memories come from stories I have heard many, many times. Most of them include a mention that Grandpa had dark hair before I came along and I only remember it as silver. There was the time they were babysitting me and I went into convulsions. I sat on the floor heater with a bare bottom and burned a waffle pattern onto myself. (There are no scars to verify this story.) I climbed up into her cupboard and ate a whole bottle of baby aspirin and had to get my stomach pumped. I don’t remember any of these things, just the stories.

Grandma loved horses, and apparently, once she had a granddaughter, she had to get a horse for her to ride. The horse was named Nuisance and I was terrified of riding her.  I was so grateful when my cousin Randy came along and he actually enjoyed riding her, and I was free.

I remember her dog Tina and when she had puppies. Those puppies were the cutest things out in the barn in a box with a red blanket and a heating lamp.

The house out on the farm by the river was a huge place to play. There was a tank house. There were cows. We’d sit on upside-down buckets and ride in the back of Grandpa’s pickup.

I remember her kitchen, and my favorite cookies. They were store bought, but I knew just where they were. You opened the first cupboard from the kitchen table, the right side door, and they were on the bottom shelf. She also baked cookies, but I really liked those Taffy cookies. Once in awhile I can find them in the store, and they still take me back to Grandma’s kitchen. There was an old wringer washer on the back porch. Funny the things that stick in my mind.

She always had beautiful pictures on her wall. One of my favorites in on my mantel now. She liked pictures that told a story, and you had to look at it over and over again to see all of the details. When she moved out of her home, it was discovered that she had written my name on the back of the one of the girl holding a cat. I’m glad. I’ve always liked it. I guess she knew that.

She had a younger brother who had twin daughters who were about a year older than me. I remember playing in the back room in the house on the farm with Jeannie and Janet and a huge argument broke out. I was outnumbered, but holding my ground. I knew I was right! When Grandma came in to break it up, I don’t know how she stayed so calm! I was insisting her name was “Grandma” and they BOTH said her name was “Aunt Mary.” That was the day I found out that I didn’t know everything.

She saved everything. I guess I got that gene from her. Except my closets and cupboards are not as meticulously organized. As I’m remembering, I’m realizing I got into her cupboards a lot. I hope she didn’t mind.

When Grandpa and Grandma moved into town, they just lived a few blocks away. It was an easy bike ride. The memories from the house on 17th Street are much stronger.

She paid us ten cents a bucket to pick up walnuts in her back yard.  They were really big buckets, too!  I couldn’t do more than one.  We also got a dime for each A on our report cards.

She was crafty.  I remember going over there after school while she was making pin cushions out of large mixing spoons.  They were padded, then covered in velvet, lace, ribbons, and beads.  I thought they were so beautiful!  She had them on the bed in the front bedroom. They looked even more striking against the white satin quilt.  She also made Christmas ornaments with those same kinds of decorations on Styrofoam balls.  I have three of those.  I was over there often before Christmas and helping her make things, like frosted cookies.  One year we made Christmas stockings for each of her grandchildren.  We still use them.  They were made to last!  She had a lot of buttons.  I loved going through them.

She had a pretty calico cat named Lucy.

I was a nail biter, and she had a really hard time with that.  She was always giving me beautiful manicure sets and fancy nail products.  I knew it would mean a lot to her if I would take care of my nails, but I was twenty-four before I finally quit.  Of course, she was happy to see that I finally had some nails.  I still don’t keep them up the way she wanted me to.

She taught me a lot of things.  How to make a bed properly.  How to dry off after a bath.  How to put on a bra.  How to tie a belt into a bow behind my back.  It was important to her to hand wash undergarments.  Some of her lessons I took to heart, others were just too much trouble.  She was an absolute perfectionist when it came to her housework and especially the care of clothing.  She even ironed her sheets and Grandpa’s handkerchiefs.  Her linen closet was a work of art that could have been framed.

She was known for her zwieback.  I especially liked when she dried the leftovers.  She dipped them in her coffee, which always had milk in it.  She liked to tell the story of how she worked hard to learn to make perfect zwieback before she was married.  They are little rolls with a flattish bottom and a round ball on top.  It’s not always easy to get them through the process of shaping and rising without that ball of dough falling off, but she could do it perfectly.  After she was married, though, they kept coming out of the oven with the two parts side-by-side.  She was mortified, and it just kept on happening.  Finally she caught Grandpa in the act.  He liked them with more crust and would go behind her after they were in the oven and flick the tops off.  So the ones they ate at home were a little lopsided, but the ones she brought to church suppers were perfect.

Unlike most women of her era, she never made pies.   I didn’t figure this out, she told me later on in her life.  She always had wonderful desserts, whether cake, sherbet cake (my favorite), or cookies.  Never pie.  I don’t remember the reason.

Grandma really liked to season food with black pepper.  I didn’t care for it, and I’m still not a fan.  Food with pepper always makes me think of her.  I have an odd fragment of a memory of being in a restaurant and being brought a plate with a beautiful baked potato with a nice blob of sour cream on it.  One of my favorite things.  She reached over and shook pepper onto it.  I was stunned.  It was ruined.  I ate it anyway.  I never told her I didn’t like pepper.

I remember after she had surgery to remove her cataracts.  She was so upset to discover that her kitchen counter tile was speckled.  She did not like the speckles.  It didn’t look clean to her.

One Christmas, when I was in college, I stayed in her front bedroom because the dorms at school were closed.  This didn’t go so well.  I did a load of laundry and she discovered that I had included a little bit of everything, including undergarments, in a single load.  Her machines had never seen such horrors.  She gave me quite a lecture on how to sort laundry that day! Unfortunately, her laundry training never took hold.  For years I lived in fear that she would stop by while I was folding laundry.

This was a real fear.  I was sharing an apartment with roommates a few years later and I came home one day and my roommates nervously told me what had happened while I was gone.  Grandma had stopped by.  They said she had gone into my room and was going through my closet and my dresser drawers.  They didn’t know what to do, so they just waited for her to finish.  I never heard about this from Grandma, so it may be safe to assume that I passed inspection.  I guess I’ll never know.

When Grandma gave you something, you had to keep it and you had to use it.  She checked up!  I still have many things that she gave me because of this.  There are also many that I have not kept, and it’s finally safe to say so.  When I was a college student, moving around a lot, I lost some pictures she gave me that her brother Johnny had painted by number.  Forgive me, but I kept them in a dresser drawer.  The dresser was borrowed.  I’m pretty sure it was returned with the paintings still in it.  She would come over and ask about them.  Oh my, the quick thinking I had to do!  She still doesn’t know I lost them.  The life lesson here is if something is truly precious to you, don’t give it to your granddaughter who washes her undies by machine.  It just isn’t going to end well!

As she got older, visiting her still meant doing projects of some kind.  A jigsaw puzzle, organizing her state quarters, taking her shopping, or getting a hamburger.  When she was still able, staying for dinner meant a meal that, besides being liberally sprinkled with pepper, was getting cold by the time you could eat it.  This is because she always took time to pray for each of her children and grandchildren before she ate.  Quite possibly those from her second marriage as well, when she didn’t have company.  

She has been gone from us for awhile.  One visit, several years ago, she asked if Eric was my new boyfriend.  Other visits, she didn’t seem to know me at all, though there was one where she did.  I wish I could remember what we talked about that day.

One time I took her a gift.  A little stuffed dog.  I wrapped it in tissue.  She ignored the puppy and spent the whole visit smoothing and folding the tissue.  Her hands were moving in such a characteristic way as she folded it again and again into a perfect little square.  It was interesting that with the paper she was herself, and yet she didn’t know who I was.  When she ate her lunch, she cleaned her plate.  Apparently she had also forgotten that she was always on a diet.

Alzheimer’s is cruel.  Even though she died today, it isn’t something that just happened, we lost her quite some time ago.

Grandma, say hello to my baby girl there in heaven for me.  Enjoy your new teeth.  So many of your loved ones got there before you, and I know it is a wonderful reunion.  We will see you again one of these days.


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