Grandma, Grandmother – Either way you say it, is there a sweeter name anywhere?
The word Grand and Mother together, joined for now and for forever as one united Grand concept. The mere word brings up images of baking cookies, cuddling for stories, and secrets whispered in little girl sleepovers.
I am not sure why I have these images. They are not at all who my Grandmother really was.
My Grandmother was no ordinary Grandmother. She was More.
Today is my Grandmother’s birthday. Although she passed away before George was born, she lives on in the hearts of so many who knew and loved her. Please let me share some of my memories of Grandma…
No Ordinary Grandma
When we were little, every Sunday after Mass we would pile in the car and drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to meet up with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Every Sunday, my brother and I would beg our parents to let us run up the street. We would ring our Grandparents’ doorbell, and huff and puff our way through telling them that we had run all the way there, and every Sunday, our Grandparents let us believe we had fooled them – again!
Sundays at Grandma and Grandpa’s were not your typical Sunday at the Grandparents. They had a modest ranch house on a quiet suburban street. Grandma was a nurse, having overcome some early challenges due to her German heritage and family’s immigration to New York City at a time when the United States was at war with Germany.
Grandpa was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and piloted PBM’s and PBY’s over Japan during World War II. He quickly worked his way up to Captain with the NYPD. My Grandparents worked hard and saved well so that we could live better. As a single mom of five boys, I will have undying gratitude for their sacrifice. It has saved my children and me in more ways than I can count.
Sundays were spent barbecuing and chowing down on Grandma’s German potato salad, the kind no one else has mastered. Sundays were also spent plugging our ears as Grandma shrieked her signature ear piercing shrieks of ecstatic delight. Those shrieks were pitched high enough to make neighborhood dogs run and hide during our family’s high stakes pool volleyball games.
Grandma was also our biggest cheerleader. She was no quiet knitter on the side lines. She attended many of our games and let everyone know she was there with her those same high pitched screams that equally cheered and lamented our side’s every move.
One of my favorite memories is camping as a child. Camping was a lot of fun but hard work too so, on those special trips when my grandparents met up with us, my brothers and I would always be incredibly thankful. Having them there meant the occasional dinner out. Grandma was our co-conspirator, rolling her eyes mischievously with us when our parents made us do chores. Camping with them meant looking up at the stars for stories of “the old days.”
It meant love and laughter.
It meant visiting vineyards for wine tasting events where my brothers and I sat at a corner table nibbling on dry crackers, sipping grape juice, and giggling as my teetotaler Grandfather pretended to sip the wine samples while secretly (or so he thought!) passing them over to my tipsy and deliciously happy Grandmother – Oh the Oktoberfest those Germans could enjoy!
It was Grandma who gave me my first drink, Kahlua and milk served to warm me up on a chilly night by a roaring campfire. I still love to sip Kahlua and milk on the rare occasions that I sip anything.
Camping memories of Grandma include the time my father tried to take her out in a canoe. My Grandmother, a short, but heavy woman due to a broken back from a car accident she suffered before I was born – and perhaps also due to her love of wine and all things sweet! – was wearing baggy black pants (probably old polyester pants) with large white polka-dots, a ridiculous sunhat (her signature and my mother’s now too. Oh Heaven help me if I inherit their sense of style!) and some sort of billowy shirt which I don’t remember exactly but am sure had more colors than all the poppy fields in the Land of Oz.
My father tried to tell her to hold on tight. He’d need to shove hard to get Grandma and the canoe from where the canoe was resting half-in, half-out of the water to where it would be floating gently in the stream. Grandma though thought she knew better and impatiently told him she was holding on tightly, and so my father gave that canoe the big necessary shove.
And Grandma went flying backwards!
I still remember the horrified gasps and shrieks as all of us watching helplessly from the shore saw the canoe move forward under her as Grandma flew backward off the seat. Her body, now back pressed against on the floor of the canoe, disappeared, leaving only those two, stubby, polka-dotted legs attached to two very sensible shoes sticking up pin-straight toward the sky.
I was little then, but even I had fear of what we might find as we ran to the canoe where Grandma was not moving.
And there lay Grandma, eyes closed, snugly encased in the bottom of the canoe. Her trembling shoulders, her only movement. We quickly realized that trembling was accompanied by tears – buckets of them, tears of laughter streaming down her cheeks. She was laughing so hard she literally could not move; she certainly could not get up. Her muscles had turned to liquid as mine so often do now when I hear a good joke or laugh so hard I want to cry.
I remember each of us grabbing a limb and yanking and pulling a weak-from-laughter Grandmother from where she was wedged in the bottom of that narrow canoe. She was sore for a bit after that, but laughed at her lesson in humility and thought the whole event quite amusing.
The rest of us – were more traumatized than she was.
I’m certain my Grandfather wasn’t even a little bit amused!
Back home, I remember my sixth grade graduation, the first time I ever wore a bra. My Nana (my other Grandmother) bought me a corsage, and she and Grandma were discussing how to pin it to my dress. Grandma snickeringly suggested they pin it to my bra strap.
I was 12. We were in the middle of the school cafeteria surrounded by people. It was my first time ever wearing a bra, and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole!
What if that boy I was madly in love with happened to hear? What if everyone knew I was wearing a bra? What if they knew it was my first time? What if they knew I had nothing to put in there? What if they thought I did have something to put in there?
Questions raced through my mind as I quickly agreed with them hoping to move the conversation forward.
I succeeded in moving it forward all right but not in the way I’d hoped!.
Both my Grandmothers, obviously shocked, exclaimed something (I don’t remember what. I just remember it was LOUD!) and at the same time, they reached over to feel my chest checking to see if what I’d said was true!
Yep, there I stood, a self-conscious, awkward 12 year old in our school cafeteria amidst the millions of people (approximately), being felt up by my loudly exclaiming Grandmothers:
OH MY! She IS wearing a BRA!
Why would you ever WANT to wear a BRA?
You have no reason to wear a BRA!
and so on and so on and so on…
Painful! Excruciatingly painful! Ohhhhh The humiliation!
And now I’ve just told the world!
It was my Grandmother who bought me my favorite comforter and to take off to college with me. It was my Grandmother who gave me the biggest microwave oven I’ve seen outside of a restaurant. She must have known I’d have a big family. She couldn’t have known that that microwave (even the light bulb inside it) would lasted longer than my marriage or that, when that microwave finally does go, I will cry and fight the urge to bury it in the backyard.
It was my Grandmother who, when she passed left me the first piece of jewelry my Grandfather had ever given her, a piece probably not worth as much financially as some of her others but worth more to me because of its significance and because of her hand written little note that came with it saying:
For Strahlen Grandpa first gift to me.
How do I express what those few little words on a hastily scribbled scrap of paper mean to me?
How do I put so much love in a post?
I can’t. As trite as it sounds, I wish I could go back and tell my Grandmother one more time how much I love her still. I wish I could go back and laugh at her funny clothes and be embarrassed by her high-pitched delighted screams and
have her check to see if I was wearing a bra
(Actually no, I don’t wish I could re-do that last bit!)
And, now, I look at my mother, who has inherited so many of her mother’s traits: Her kind heartedness, her ability to laugh (although not her scream – thank the LORD!), her willingness to do anything to help her children, her sense of style (Gulp!) – and I know that some of those good traits will be passed on to me and I cannot express my thankfulness or my gratitude or my appreciation or my love in words, but they are there.
And, as much as we are different, all three of us women, as much as I will cringe re-reading this at times, I know I could do much worse than to turn out like my Grandmother or my Mother. They are strong and intelligent and have the ability to laugh even in trying times. There’s not much on this Earth that can top those traits.
And for that, I want to thank them both.
I have been truly blessed.
To all the Grandmas out there, thank you for all you do. You are loved and appreciated.
God Has Blessed His World With Grandmothers, and we are so thankful.
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