My grandma is 96, lives in a nursing home in Iowa and has led such an interesting life. She is my last living grandparent.
I'll start her story, with the timeline that I know. She was divorced from my grandfather in the 60's when people didn't really "divorce" so much. She set out on her own and became an independent woman.
My first memory of my Grandma was at her house in rural Missouri. All I can remember is running through her little house playing, probably at Christmas. I couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old. I remember the big tapestry of a pair of polar bears that hung on the wall. I now own this tapestry myself although I don't have it hung (it's huge).
My second memory of my Grandma came not long after that. I was riding in a truck that was driving a load of my Grandmother's possessions. I fell asleep and when I woke up, we were in my hometown of Conway, Iowa. Population zero.
We pulled up to the ugliest piece of crap house you could possibly imagine. The grass was 19 feet tall and there were a couple cars upside down in the front yard. This was my Grandma's new house. I remember at 4 years old thinking "what the HELL?"
I don't know why Grandma moved. At that time, she would have been close to retirement age - so maybe she retired? I never remember Grandma having a regular job although I know that she did work in factories and such earlier in her life.
Anyway, Grandma worked and worked on that little house. I remember the day that the cars were taken away on a flatbed truck by some guy. The yard was trimmed and it immediately looked 900 times better. Grandma painted and paneled the house. She even put down new "carpet" which was really just a lot of carpet samples put together. My grandmother made a patchwork quilt out of her living room floor of 75 different colors. I never thought that was weird, I thought it was fun.
She built most things herself that she needed. I was in my teens before I realized that not all grandmas knew how to run a circular saw and had a subscription to popular mechanics instead of better homes and gardens. When I was about 9, she made me an entire set of barbie doll furniture. I wanted the pink plastic ones like my cousin had, but instead, I got a hand made set with scrolled arms and tufted cushions with vintage upholstery fabric. A bed, a couch, an arm chair, a rocking chair, a dresser if I remember correctly.
Did she do it because she loved it? because it was cheaper? both? Doesn't matter, I was disappointed that I didn't get the barbie encrusted pink glitter logo ridden stuff, but later, loved it just as much. I remember telling my mother how much I wanted a canopy bed, and my mom, instead of saying no, or dragging out a catalog, suggested I ask Grandma to MAKE ME ONE. I did actually ask her, she considered it too. Sadly it never happened, and I'm sure it would have been under appreciated anyway.
She was a single woman, but she had 3 bedrooms and 4 beds. I suppose she was anticipating all the grandchildren she'd have around in the summers. Which she did! A couple weeks during the summer, my grandmother would take on no less than 10 grandchildren all at the same time. It was like camp. Funny, my mother never repaid this debt to my grandma by watching MY kids during the summer! :p
She would pile all of us into her car in shifts to take us swimming at the lake. She'd make numerous round trips. The first shift would swim while the second and third shifts were in transit. Once shift three got there, shift one got back in the car. So my Grandma took SIX TRIPS to the lake so we could all swim, never once getting out of the car.
Before I even started school, my Grandmother was my "babysitter". Mom was working, my brother and sister were in school. In a time where you just needed to be potty trained to go to Kindergarten, my grandma taught me my entire alphabet, how to tie my shoes, how to read basic words, and how to write. I would tell her what I wanted to say in a letter to my cousin Dianna, and I would copy all the letters. Then a few weeks later, a letter would come back from my cousin. Pretty powerful stuff for a 5 year old.
In her "free time", Grandma was a quilter. A crazy one. She's the only person I know that preferred to sew double knit over regular cotton fabrics. My mom would watch for old out of date pants and jackets made of double knit for her at garage sales and at Christmas most years we'd get a quilt for a gift. I have around 8-10 quilts from Grandma.
She made me a green one for my 13th birthday. I complained about it to my friends. My cousin Dianna was there and ripped me a new one in front of everyone and I've never stopped feeling guilty since. That green quilt is on my bed right now. Those double knit quilts last FOREVER.
I'll never forget:
- Grandma ratted us out for climbing my dad's maple tree.
- She got tired of me going barefoot in the summer so she bought me the 2 most uncomfortable pairs of shoes known to man. Which I hated and didn't wear.
- She smoked in her bathroom for years and pretended like she was a non-smoker, but everyone knew she was.
- Her dog BJ that was a gift from my uncle, and best friend to her Siamese cat that lived 20 years.
- She only wants red cars. She was proud the day she came to the house and all 4 of her granddaughters had a red vehicle "that's my girls" she said. lol.
- She loves boys - but always threatening to spank them. Sometimes she did.
- Has no inner voice that told you not to say something. I have found that this is a hereditary trait.
- She taught me all the best swear words.
- She's an identical twin. My aunt would show up to see grandma (she lives in Oregon) and her and grandma would have on the same outfit and carrying the same purse. They married cousins.
- She was one (well, a pair) of many kids. She and her sister were the youngest. Many named after flowers... I only met my great aunt and my uncle (Holly). (Iris, Daisy, Holly, Lily). She named my mother after her twin sister. Her twin sister named her son a version of my grandmother's name.
All the while she grew older, and living in her little house.
Family started cooking for her so she wouldn't have to use the stove. My sister visited her every day taking her meals and spending time with her. She would go to bed at 6 in the evening and get up for her day at 3 a.m. She only slept on the couch. She would piddle around and mom finally took away her keys - or disabled her car, I can't remember which it was, but she wasn't allowed to drive any more. Which was probably a good thing considering her speeding tickets and all.
Around 2003 she fell and hurt herself. She went to a nursing home "temporarily" but the truth was, it was permanent. She hated the loss of her independence.... soon she forgot about her independence and before you knew it, she was the "owner" of a huge mansion in Iowa with a staff of 20. Just ask her! She would invite you to stay, she had plenty of beds (again) and the "girls" will make a nice dinner.
I would invite you to go visit this woman and have a funny and memorable conversation with her in her palatial estate, but I can't.
Grandma died yesterday.
She's been going for a while now. I haven't been to visit her in a couple years. Grandma has lost her memory of everyone and didn't recognize anyone. She stopped talking. She would have no idea who I was, but I knew her, and didn't want to remember her that way. She was 96 and went out like I wanna go out. Only knowing the good stuff I want to remember, having a huge home, and a small staff to serve it.
She was my second mother, and sometimes stricter than my own. I was the only one she "helped raise" and she made a huge impact on my life. She taught me that women can do anything they'd like to do, and they don't require a man to accomplish it. At the same time, they can still be soft, sweet and loving. If someone told me otherwise, I would counter with my "case in point": Grandma.
Don't eff with Grandma.
I wish you could have met her, and hope that this was a bit of you getting that opportunity. There will only be graveside services on Monday, no funeral services, so let this serve as my eulogy to my grandma. It's what I would have said that day.