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Grandma, I Love You
Memories of my maternal grandmother
[1,027 words]
Liilia Morrison
Writer and artist living in South Florida
[August 2016]
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Grandma, I Love You
Liilia Morrison

My grandma was an ordinary woman. She took care of me for about a year when I was seven. We lived in handyman special my father bought, fixing it up as time allowed. He was away on business much of the time. Mom worked in the nearby city. Her mother, my grandma, minded the home when they worked. Quiet, old-fashioned, her hair a severe, blunt cut, she wore gray in summer, black in winter. She went about unobtrusively, washing, cooking, cleaning, and carrying vegetables from the garden. Once a fly got stuck in my eye. She sat me by the wax cloth covered kitchen table, and calmly washed the fly out.

Saturday night she poured water into a tin tub and gave me a bath. Electricity had recently been installed, but she still heated water on a wood-burning stove.
Her iron had an opening on top, where hot coals were inserted. Once in a while, for supper, she killed a chicken from the henhouse. I never saw this. Did she wring the neck or chop with a hatchet? No one else, including my father, had the stomach to do this. Grandma would sit in the kitchen, plucking feathers. When she cut open the bird, clinging to its guts were eggs in stages of growth.

She walked down the lane to get small things from the store, always putting on a coat and beret. There was a summer coat and a winter coat. I love berets, don't like coats. Mother said when grandma was young, she had long, thick chestnut colored hair. Though she was over sixty, her hair was still dark.

Grandma made jams from berries on trees and bushes. She brewed mysterious yeasty substances to various levels of fermentation. I was given some of the milder drinks. Grandma made lye soap, shaped in long, brown bars and kept in a lower cabinet. It had a strong, pungent smell. When winter brought colds and sniffles, she gathered raspberry stalks to make a healing tea. Common weeds, such as dandelion, were used for medication.

What child from that generation does not remember having to swallow cod liver oil, almost gagging at the taste? Grandma was assigned this unpleasant task.

Mother spent much time tending the garden. How she got the energy, after a day's work, I don't know. She raked, dug, weeded and made compost piles during the summer. Grandma then gathered armfuls of spinach leaves, Bibb lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh dill to prepare supper.

A dark room way in the back was called the library. Large, old leather chairs and books were strewn in no particular order. Grandma lived in that room. I had the impression father didn't like her, like she was more servant than a family member. Before my mother got married, her mother told her any man who didn't like animals was not a good man. My father didn't like animals. So grandma wasn't very fond of my father, either.

When the war came, grandma made a big decision. She told us she was too old to travel and wanted to die in her country of birth. Most families and able-bodied people left. She hoped the conquerors wouldn't bother an old woman.

The last time I saw her, we were on a wagon, pulled by a horse. We sat on top of a pile of our belongings. Our only pet, a gray cat, soon decided to jump off. We never saw her again, either. That brief time in the handyman special of a house, lasting maybe a year or less is the only contact I ever had of my grandma. That patient woman, who spoke little and hid in the library when the family gathered, remains an anchor of strength and inspiration to me.

Somewhere I have a photo of her, sitting on a plain chair, arms folded, with a serene expression on her face. It's the only one I have. Her memory kept me going through hectic days when mom was very sick and father sought help for her in trying times. I was alone much of the time. Grandma's spirit seemed to hold things together.

Decades passed. My parents had already retired when they discovered grandma's whereabouts. She was still in the country of her birth, alive, with one of her daughters caring for her. Letters began to trickle across the many miles, written by a slightly shaky, but graceful hand. Most were from the daughter, but one was from grandma herself, written with real ink, though the paper was flimsy.

They had no hot water. A window, smashed by rough teens, had to be taped to keep out the cold, northern wind. I never read these letters until after my mother died, at age 83, and left old letters behind. Grandma had died in her early nineties. The letters speak of selfish grandchildren nearby. They would visit and try to take things from her, such as socks and sweaters. They told her to give them her winter coat when she died. You get the picture.

In those years, letters were censored before they arrived at my mom's mailbox. Between the lines, I clearly read a strong will to live, an acceptance that becomes, to me, more extraordinary as the years go by. Old age is scary, under any circumstances. Health becomes an issue, as does the meaning of life. Feelings of uselessness in a society that loves youth, is a reality. Those letters, like that photo, are icons for me.

My grandma was quite ordinary in the eyes of the world. She did not write the great novel, win a prize in the county fair for handiwork, nor was she loved by her son-in-law. She did not hug or kiss me, or tell me she loved me. She never took me to the movies or even a park. There were no toys or cookies. She was just there. She's still there, in my heart. This plain, country woman stands as the strength that I needed then. I need it more than ever now that I have grown old. Thanks grandma. I love you. I know you loved me, too.


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© 2007 Liilia Morrison
October 2007

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