I’ve been thinking a lot about my Grandmom lately. She lived through the Depression, stopping school in the 8th grade to help her family run the farm. As the oldest child with no brothers, it was her responsibility to work the land as a farmhand when money was tight. She didn’t even inherit the farm she toiled over because she wanted to marry my Grandpop, a man my grandparents thought inferior for her.
A housewife, she loved her family, went to (first Mennonite, later Congregational, and lastly Presbyterian) church regularly, and cherished food. She always admonished me when I failed to clear my plate. Don’t worry, she saved whatever I didn’t eat and included it in her weekly soup (any and all leftovers, mostly produce, that didn’t get eaten became her soup). As far as I know, no one ate the soup except for her. I guess growing up not having enough to eat will do that to a person.
She also advocated for food security in the best way she knew how – through walking in the Arlington area’s annual CROP Walk for Hunger. The most prolific fundraiser for years, she walked the six miles with joy knowing she was helping those who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. She loved to walk (she could be seen in the mornings and evenings each day walking throughout the neighborhood), and was the oldest person to complete the walk her last couple of years of doing it.
But that’s not why I’m thinking about her these days. Most of the time, I just think about how much I miss her. She lived less than a mile down the street from me while I was growing up, and she was my first and most memorable babysitter. One of my favorite moments as a kid was piling all my stuffed animals on the bed and reading books while laying on top of them. She did that with me. She also braided my hair in pigtails whenever she was around after bath time, something I loved because only she could do it (my mom never did). Funny, I ended up being the one to brush and braid her hair in pigtails at the end.
We took walks to the neighborhood playground, collecting nuts that fell from trees to throw in the St. John’s River, played endless games (she loved card games the best), and ate weekly Sunday dinners together. As I got older, I spent less time at her house, and more time with sports and school activities. She came to those when she could, but mostly I saw her at our family dinners (which I didn’t even really want to attend (ugh, teen life)).
During high school, my parents chaperoned a trip for my brother for a week one summer and I was bummed to have to stay with my grandparents. Looking back now, I’m so happy I did. I’d never spent a whole week with them before, being part of their regular lives. It felt special, and I felt loved.
Before she died, she told me how happy I made her, especially since I was excelling in college. She said that’s why all of my birthday and Christmas money (never presents) had to go to my college fund – it was that important. She didn’t see the importance of it when my dad wanted to attend college (first in the family), but after he did, and saw his support of us and my grandparents, she told me she was glad to be wrong.
The last time I remember seeing her was on a car ride on my way back to college. She was pretty frail at that point, but she insisted on making the two hour ride to and from Gainesville with me and my parents. I think she slept most of the ride. But I knew she cared for me and was there for me unconditionally.
I hope that I’m continuing to make her proud in my raising of two young boys. I often think about how she would react to a situation or what kind of advice she would give me. I miss her. And our Grandmom/Granddaughter bond is why I’m thinking about her so much these days. Right now, Henry spends two days a week with his Oma and Opa, who live 20 short minutes away. It’s a lifesaver for me as I adjust to life with two kiddos, but it’s amazing for him (and hopefully them) as well. I know he’s going to have lovely memories of his time spent with them now, and I hope these memories continue to build exponentially in the years to come.