Dedicated to the Memory of Blanche Anna Brown Eaton
I could give you timelines and dates and genealogy but this essay is not about facts. It’s not about the Exacts. It’s about feelings and remembrances. It’s about a grandmother who on some level is thought about every day. It’s about a grandmother who gave me an emotional foundation.
In the day she would have been called stout. I only know that by pictures and the fact that she didn’t have much of a lap. She wasn’t necessarily a pretty woman, but her twinkling eyes and ready smile belied that fact. She was a strong woman, who could chase a chicken, rings its neck, have it butchered and in the pot in the twinkling of an eye. She worked 8-10 hours in the canning factory and come home and prepare a full course dinner for her family. She could go without sleep for days while she nursed a neighbor back to health – while doing all of the above, it was said. She could keep going when there was no money, no wood for the fire, nor little food for the table but managed somehow to keep her family together. She stayed in a marriage to a man who was said have been ‘the salt of the earth’ by his friends but a n’re thee well by those who knew him. A good man who had the wanderlust, who drank too much and worked too little. She stayed with him until her children were grown and loved him til the day she died.
But those are the facts and I said I wasn’t going to write about those. I am going to write about the Gramma I knew, the Gramma I remember.
I hear her as I sit on the top of the stairs, whimpering that my tummy hurts or that monster is trying to come out of the closet again. I hear her say “Come down and have some peppermint tea and you’ll feel better soon.” She settles me in the big rocker next to the old wood stove and pours the tea into two china cups. Always the same two cups. Special only for her and me. She re-positions me on her lap – what there was of it. We drink the tea, she tells me a story, my eyes become heavy with sleep and she carries me upstairs to bed.
I feel her protective comfort as we sit on the front porch during the thunder storm. “O, the angels are bowling in heaven”. When the thunder booms she says it’s the ball rolling down the alley. When the lighting strikes, its an angel who has knocked down all the pins and they go all over the place.
I smell the smells from the kitchen as she stirs and bakes and roasts. Always with the apron on. I see the two big glass jars she keeps under the sink, one filled with molasses cookies and the other with sugar cookies. I see the door to the cellar and feel the anxiety as I am asked to go down to the dark, dank place to get a jar of pickles. I see shelves and shelves of canned vegetables and jams and jellies and all kinds of pickles. But it is a scary place and I hurry to go up those stairs to a safe haven.
I remember picnics where she was always asked to bring potato salad because she made the best dressing. I remember berry picking and the little tin pail. I remember her cautioning me not to eat too many of those berries – “Leave some for the pie.” I remember shelling the peas and shucking the corn I had helped her pick from her garden.
I remember first the two-holer with the Monkey-Ward catalogue which was used for toilet paper. And then I remember the exciting day that the indoor bathroom was finished with an honest to goodness bathtub. (Gramma was given the honor of taking the first bath.)
I remember the day she took me to pick out my very own kitten. We named her Topsy. I remember Gramma’s laughter and giggles as she watch us play ‘hide and seek’ or my trying to dress Topsy up in my doll clothes.
I remember how she comforted me when I couldn’t find my Mom. I remember her telling me Momma would be home soon, bringing me a baby sister – and that I would be the Big Sister. I remember her standing beside me by my Momma’s bed when I looked at that little wiggly thing. I was reported as saying ” Well, she’s not going to be much fun.”
I remember going to church with Gramma every Sunday, singing the hymns even when I didn’t know the tunes. I remember the big velvet drapes behind the altar, and asking Gramma if Jesus lived there. I remember paying much more attention to the pictures Gramma drew on the church bulletin to keep me quiet!
I see her as she is dying. In our own home now, letting Us take care of Her. I smell the musty, close smell of sickness, of incontinency. I feel sadness all around me. I hear her moan but not complain. I see her arms reach out for me as I crawl into her bed to comfort her, as she had comforted me so often.
I see her in her coffin, peaceful, like the Gramma I knew. I place a rose on her chest and kiss her cheek. Cold, leathery.
Even now I see her twinkling eyes. I feel her hugs. I hear her laughter and giggles. I sense her love for me, her pride in me, her hopes for me.
What did she give to me? Unconditional love.
What lesson did she teach me? To persevere, to keep going no matter what.
I see her every day.
I saw her in my Mother.
I see her in my Sister.
I see her in my Daughters
I feel her in my heart.
My mother, sister and I lived with my Grandmother while my father was in the Army- from 1942 -45. She died when I was eleven. I am writing this for my sister who was too little to remember too much about Gramma, and for my only cousin who was just a baby when she died. I am writing this for my children who I hope will have a sense of who they came from – a woman of grace, of loyalty, of perseverance, of humor, of optimism, of faith, and an indomitable spirit.