Thursday, November 18, 2010
Thankfulness for Grandmothers
I didn’t know either of my grandfathers – my mother’s father died when she was 12 and my father’s father died when I was nine months old – but I knew both of my grandmothers, and knew them well. Being a grandparent is much on my mind these days, and I wrote about it over at The High Calling a few weeks back.
My maternal grandmother died when I was 25; she was in her 90s and had been ailing for some time. She was a daughter of German immigrants who came from Alsace-Lorraine after Germany took control of it after the Franco-Prussian War. (Yes, they had been Germans living in French-controlled territory, and left once the Germans took over. There’s a story there, but no one in the family knows it.)
Her name was Lillian, and she was married three times. Her first marriage – to her first love – ended after his death following confinement in a mental institution. She had discovered him one day sneaking up behind her with a knife in his hands, and she kept her wits about her and told him to put the knife down, which he did, and then realized what he had been doing. Her second marriage was to my grandfather; they had five girls and a boy, who collectively have proliferated into hundreds by now. My grandfather died from a ruptured appendix in 1935, leaving her to care for the children remaining at home. She became a cleaning woman for movie theaters, and spent a lot of hours on her hands and knees scrubbing floors. My mother can remember times of having nothing in the house to eat except perhaps bread.
What my “Gramma” passed on to her children and grandchildren was uncomplaining persistence and determination in the face of often terrible adversity. The personification of stubbornness, she could also be rather mischievous, and unpredictable. She shocked the entire family by falling in love in her late 70s and marrying for a third time – more than 30 years after the death of my grandfather. She ignored the protests of her daughters, and Gramma Jacob became Gramma Anderson.
My paternal grandmother, known to her grandchildren as “Gram,” was born in 1889. Her name was Martha. By the time she was five years old, she was working in a cotton mill in Mississippi. I never heard a word about her father; her mother, know the family as “Granny,” was a tobacco-chewing, no-nonsense, do-whatever-I-have-to-do woman who was rumored to have killed either a husband or a gentleman friend. Almost the polar opposite of her mother, my grandmother married my grandfather – 10 years her elder – when she was 16, and they were married for 47 years until his death. They had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood.
My grandmother lived in Shreveport, and I lived in New Orleans, but she was the grandparent I was closest to. The firstborn son of her only son, I was something of a favorite, but she likely made all of her grandchildren feel like that. For six or seven years, until she started growing older and more infirm, I spent a week every summer with her, just the two of us, tooling around Shreveport in her old Ford sedan. That week included the full array of her Southern Baptist church activities – worship and Sunday School on Sunday, ice cream social, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and visits to other elderly ladies.
From her I learned the importance of loving-kindness, gentleness and faith. I also learned that you didn’t have to know music to be able to sing in church – she played piano and sang solos at worship services well into her 80s, and couldn’t read a note of music.
I wouldn’t be where I am in my own journey of thankfulness, and thankfulness for my own grandchild, without these two women. And with each passing year, I grow more thankful for having had them as a part of my life.
Bonne Gray at Faith Barista has been leading a blog series on faith. Check her site for more links to posts on thankfulness.
Top photograph: Kneading Dough by Donna Cosmato via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. Bottom photograph: Grandpa and Cameron Young, Nov. 15, 2010, taken with Grandpa's smart phone. Used with Cameron's permission.