|5 generations. Used with permission|
My training to be a grandmother began when I was a child. I knew both of my grandmothers and three of my great-grandmothers – five women who influenced me in their own unique way.
|Mildred Bultman and granddaughters. Used with permission.|
Grandma Bultman was a little woman standing barely 5'2" , but for someone so little she worked from sunrise to sunset. For her, cleaning house was more than sweeping, mopping, and dusting. She ironed every article of clothing, sheets, pillowcases, and handkerchiefs that she had washed and dried. She scrubbed windows and floors until you could see your reflection and she hauled mattresses and pillows outside to air. She was small in stature, but if you made her mad she could throw you into next week -- and if she was still mad when she caught up with you, she’d throw you again. OK, all kidding aside you didn’t want to make Grandma mad unless you were prepared to suffer the wrath.
After her children had grown she took a full time factory job to supplement their income. After retirement she and Grandpa accepted a part-time job cleaning the local bank. Whenever I spent the night with them I’d tag along and watch while they cleaned. One particular time made quite an impression on me. Grandma was on her knees scrubbing a toilet when she suddenly looked up at me and said, “JaLeen, I want you to get an education so you don’t have to clean someone else’s toilet for a living.” The bitter tone in her voice and hardened expression on her face embedded that moment in my mind forever.
Grandma Kay was a career woman who owned and operated her own beauty shop from home. For Grandma, doing hair was a passion and she worked in that shop for fifty years before health issues forced her to retire. She too encouraged me to get an education and do something with my life. My grandparents divorced when my mother was just a baby so Grandma’s success was a result of hard work and determination. By the time she remarried thirteen years later she had established her career and autonomy-- two things my step-grandfather admired. This grandmother also had a temper and whenever she got angry we just ran away and hid until she calmed down. Grandpa, however, would egg her on and somehow he always managed to make her laugh. So many times when he’d irritate her she’d take a deep breath and blow it out. “Men!” She’d exclaim. To which Grandpa replied calmly, “Yeah, but you love us anyway.” She couldn’t argue with that.
Great-Grandma Maggie came to America from Germany in the late 1800s when she was a little girl. She watched her parents struggle to establish a new life in a new country and learn a new language. As a young woman she lost her first husband to meningitis and finished raising her children alone before she remarried. I regret that we never talked about these things, but she passed away before I was old enough to appreciate the life she had carved out for herself. I do remember one time when we visited Grandma Maggie and she served us Neapolitan ice cream. Instead of scooping it with an ice cream dipper she’d slice it so we’d have equal parts of strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. Ribbons of pink, brown, and white and I always thought how pretty it was served that way.
|Gustafson Christmas. Used with permission|
Great-Grandma Gustafson loved hosting big family dinners at holiday time. She could make one dizzy the way she darted back and forth with lightening speed from the kitchen to the dining room making sure full dishes of food replaced empty ones and that there were plenty of rolls on the table. She was my step-grandfather’s mother and she never treated me different than her own grandchildren. We all received the same unconditional love and we children each got ten dollars at Christmas time. We thought we were rich!
Great-Grandma Auer lived the farthest away so when we visited her we stayed for a week. Grandma lived on a farm and she had a huge garden where she grew tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onions, beets, corn, and so many other things that she fed to her family or sold at the farmer’s market during the hot summer months. In the middle of the garden she planted a row of gladiolus and bordered the garden with marigolds and zinnias. Grandma always whistled when she worked. I never realized the hardships she endured until I was grown up. She had raised a family during the Great Depression, watched her oldest child suffer through a divorce, and put up with a husband who found fault with everything she did. In spite of the heartaches and disappointments she whistled cheerfully and greeted each day with a smile.
|Alice & JaLeen 1976. Used with permission.|
Four of my great-grandparents lived long enough to see both of my children. I was so blessed with grandparents. I lost my last grandparent when I was 45. Three years later I became a grandmother for the first time when my daughter gave birth to Jakob. In the next four years she would give me two more grandsons, Logan and Gavin.
|Jakob, Logan, and Gavin. Used with permission.|
When my grandsons are old enough to appreciate family memories I want to share with them my memories and stories of the grandmothers I knew and loved. For now they can’t even imagine me ever having a grandmother.
The boys are too young to understand these things so I walk through my flower gardens with them as they explore and look for toads. I wonder if this is a memory in the making. Logan grabs a fist full of mums and hands the yellow flowers to his mom who looks mortified. Seeing her panic I remind her that he isn’t doing anything we didn’t do when we were children, and she accepts his gift. When he sees my approval he picks a hand full for me and we take them into the house and put them in a glass of water. Logan smiles as I thank him with hugs and kisses.
I sometimes wonder what memories of me will remain with the boys as they grow to manhood. Will it mean anything to them that I went back to school and completed a college degree in my late forties and thought about Grandma Bultman when I held my diploma? Will my dedication and hard work to raising a family and keeping a marriage together inspire them to lead healthy and productive lifestyles?
Or perhaps it will be the little things that inspire them. When they spend the night Jakob always requests that I make Belgian waffles for breakfast. Will the waffles become a favorite memory for him like Great-Grandma Maggie’s sliced Neapolitan ice cream?
Gavin is still a baby but he is already included in most of our grandmother-grandson activities. He sits contentedly on my lap while we sit on the porch swing. We’re just getting started.
If I’m still around when the boys are grown I hope they share their memories with me. After I’m gone perhaps they’ll sit down with their own grandchildren and say, “I remember when Grandma did this…”