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.

14 comments:

Kelly Sauer said...

oh I like her. I wish I'd been able to meet her. I am learning much about that persistence she taught...

Jerry said...

I didn't really know any of my grandparents. No contact of any significance. You are blessed to have those memories. Thanks for sharing
Glynn.

Your grandson will write about you some day.

David Rupert said...

Glynn... I know you are taking this journey because of your own role. grandparents often shirk away because they don't understand the music, the tattoos, the hair. They think they have nothing to offer. But they do.

Maureen said...

Being able to have such wonderful memories, even knowledge of any background of one's ancestors, helps complete one's story. Grandparents are a missing link for me.

mom2six said...

My first grandchild will be born in a few weeks. I've been pondering being a grandma. Your memories of your grandmothers are precious. I too have wonderful memories of my grandmothers and my maternal grandfather. Their legacy continues to encourage and bless me. I miss them often. Thanks.

M.L. Gallagher said...

What a fabulous photo and what strong and vibrant roots you have!

Bonnie Gray said...

What a beautiful gift your grandmothers left you, Glynn! And what wonderful pictures of gratefulness you drew in this post. It's a whole lifetime of hard work, persistence day in and day out. Because of them, you can look back on their lives and look down at your grandchild and smile with a joy that connects through and through. That smile is worth a thousand words. I can be that for my children and one day theirs too, as you are there now! Thanks for jamming!

Lisa notes... said...

I had a tough Mississippi grandmother, too. I don't think I've sat down before to really think how she and my other grandmother influenced me, but your post is inspiring me to do that. Thanks for sharing another piece of your life. I'm sure you're a wonderful grandfather!

jasonS said...

Wonderful story. Love to hear about good stubbornness and persistence. Thanks Glynn.

S. Etole said...

You had a good start with the grandparenting role it seems ... what a cutie he is.

Sheryl said...

What a wonderful legacy you have! How great it is that you get to pass it on to future generations.

Just a thought---would your Grandmother have been Alsatian and not truly German? Granted the dialect is closer to German than French, but it's an interesting combination of the two with a little something extra thrown in.

nance marie said...

that is so true, that we start to see much more value in the roll people have played in our life, once we are in the position to do the same.

glad to see you are taking more photos...this one turned out really great!

melissabrotherton.com said...

Love this journey, Glynn. I really enjoy hearing about your adventures and history. And that photo at the bottom, entirely too adorable! I love binky babies. :)

H. Gillham said...

I love these posts best --- and I love how you are cherishing your new role as grandpa.

Love your stories about your own grandmothers ---

I didn't know my paternal grandparents, dead before I was born, and my maternal ones were dead by the time I was in 2nd grade. My mother's sisters kept their memory alive ---- because of their stories, I felt like I knew them better. I am trying to do the same thing for my own nieces and nephews --- :-)