When I was young, we spent nearly every Sunday evening at the home of my maternal grandparents. When all of the cousins gathered there, we played outside, often exploring the barn and the orchard. We knew not to interrupt the adults, and to leave them to visit.
Because I was one of so many, as a child I really didn’t get to know my grandparents as well as I would have liked.
My maternal grandparents were solid, moral, hard-working people. My grandfather died when I was a young teen, so my memories of him are of a gentle soul, a soft-spoken man who was kind and good, a man who loved his horses and his dogs and enjoyed cultivating beautiful floral gardens and raspberry groves. My grandmother lived to 86, and I was blessed to have one-on-one conversations with her as a young adult. I loved hearing her stories, which always focused on the positive.
I enjoyed taking her out for her favorite dinner, fried chicken and mashed potatoes. If I could have just one more day with her, I would treasure her stories beyond measure.
The first one I would ask to hear is the one about the ornery neighbor boy who showed up with a switchblade, showing it off to the other kids.
“I just knew somebody was going to get hurt. So I said, ‘here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re going to give it to me for now, and when your mother thinks it is time for you to have it back, you tell her to come get it from me.'”
I loved that story then, and I love it now.
That old switchblade still makes me smile every time I run across it in my memory bank of good stories from days gone by.
I guess that boy’s mama hasn’t yet reached the time she thought he should have the knife back, because when it changed hands, it went from my grandmother’s to mine, many years after it happened.
It touches my heart that because I loved that story so much, Grandma gave me that slim red and gold knife, and I treasure it for the story it represents.
She was a woman who learned through the school of hard knocks, and learned it brilliantly.
One of 14 children, the family moved from one rental farm to another numerous times during her youth. It goes without saying that she likely knew what true hunger was. She learned to live off the land in a way in which today’s young couldn’t even conceive: going in search of wild berries with her sisters, fishing in farm ponds and creeks, scrubbing and washing laundry by hand in the creek, too.
Because she had always worked so hard, the ladylike pursuits of sewing and knitting and needlepoint just did not interest her. She enjoyed fixing radios and televisions, becoming so knowledgeable that people brought her all sorts of things to repair. She nearly always succeeded.
And she never lost her love of fishing.
As the years go by, the photographs of her holding each of my children as babies become more dear, and I wish I could ask her to tell me about her childhood, which I know had to have been much more difficult than she ever conveyed.
People were carved to be stronger then, and her resilience through 86 years of life inspires me still.