17 November, 2006

Ninety Years On

My grandmother is 90 today. I've had three grandmothers, but by default of life circumstance I spent the most time with my mom's mother.

I don't know how to say all the things I want to say, because when it comes to people you look up to, words often seem inadequate. For someone like me who deals in words having a lack of words brings the power of your love for a person into clear focus.

When I was a small child my Grandma was another star in the revolving constellation of adults who loved me and shaped me. She taught me about God and Jesus and prayer and respecting others. She taught me about hard work and enjoying the outdoors. We picked strawberries and raspberries and grapes on the farm. She taught me to call wild cats in from the forest with a sharp "Heeeere Kitty, Kitty" and a saucer of milk. She had a bright mind and a sharp sense of humour. She was a cook in the schoolhouse.

When I grew older I started to piece together the anecdotes that moved her from the category of "Grandmother" to "Person". Those breadcrumbs on the trail to the heart of my Grandmother are both fascinating and heartwrenching.

I know she wanted to be a nurse but her parents couldn't afford to send her to college. She had a passel of sisters (5 or 6 or 7, I lose count), some of whom did get to be nurses.

She married the man who was initially the boyfriend of another sister. She thought all her sisters were prettier than she. Her husband was a local basketball star. In Indiana that's one step below king.

She doesn't like her first name. Her parents cobbled it together from the pieces of her father's name, because she was the third daughter and they were giving up hopes of ever having a son. When her brother came along over a decade later, she was still stuck to a boy's name with a couple of feminine flourishes added. A boy's name she shared with her brother.

Her middle name is Fay, but she alters the spelling from time to time. I think both my cousin Christine and I have inherited our fickle name conventions from her. The last time I checked, she was spelling "Fay" p-h-a.

She had three children. My mother was first. Her brother came along five years later. Two years after him my aunt was born. I always wonder if there were lost babies between mom and Uncle Rich. Either that or WWII kept the babies at bay.

She allowed my uncle to practice taxidermy in her basement. He grew up to be a surgeon of some reknown, so I guess that wasn't entirely a bad idea.

Both my mom and my aunt became teachers. My grandmother was very proud that all of her children were able to go to college. I always feel like I've disappointed her by turning my back on my own college education. Sometimes I even consider becoming a nurse.

She loves birds. She used to have a clock that had a different bird call for each hour. That clock gave me the creeps.

There was an old roll-top desk in the living room of their farmhouse. She sat at that desk every day and had devotions. I still remember her Bible, with all the verses and thoughts bleeding over the flyleaves in various colours of ink. During my entire childhood there was a yellowed piece of newspaper taped to one of the drawers that said "Seven days without prayer makes one weak."

My grandmother is 90. Her eyesight is failing and her mind is slowly slipping into twilight. I wonder if she realises how much of herself she's left in good keeping with her family, and how much of an impact she's made.


At 5:04 PM, November 17, 2006, Blogger Slartibartfast said...


Happy birthday to your grandmother. For some reason, I've really been missing my grandfather lately, and he passed in 1984.

At 10:00 PM, November 17, 2006, Blogger Kathy T. said...

I love what you said When I grew older I started to piece together the anecdotes that moved her from the category of "Grandmother" to "Person". Those breadcrumbs on the trail to the heart of my Grandmother are both fascinating and heartwrenching. Very touching. Happy Birthday, Pha!

At 10:09 PM, November 17, 2006, Blogger Jeffraham Prestonian said...

Congrats to your mamaw (as we say back in the hills)!

Come out and buy me a beer, Kat. :)

At 5:53 PM, November 18, 2006, Anonymous sista smiff said...

I haven't had a grandmother since 1984. How blessed you are.

At 12:55 PM, November 19, 2006, Anonymous Sis said...

Grandma is a phenomenal person! She has always been a role model of tremendous faith and hard work. She has done things in her life that are beyond my comprehension. She reared our mother who is herself an amazing person! Even though she suffers a lot these days, she is still a loving, bright person with a great sense of humor! Thanks for the great tribute, Kath!


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