“Echoes of Two Grandmothers,” Sept. 8, 2020

(NOTE: I’m taking off this week for the holiday. Also for wildfires, rolling blackouts, and 120 degree heat. The following column is from 1993. Please stay safe and cool and well! _ Sharon)

My grandmothers were about as different, one from the other, as any two women could be. One sang soprano, whistled it while she worked. The other sang alto, sultry and low. Neither of them sang especially well, but together, their voices found harmony in me.

Neta and Grace met in 1940, soon after the former’s 15-year-old daughter ran off to marry the latter’s 25-year-old son. I am told the meeting was civil, though not especially cordial. The one thing they could agree on, knowing their children as they did, was that the marriage did not have a snowball’s chance in hell.

Why do mothers always have to see a heartache coming long before it knocks on the door? They knew their children’s marriage was grief in the making. But they promised each other to pray long and hard, to do all they could to help it last.

And so began a lifelong pact between two remarkably dissimilar women, a silent but mutual agreement of the heart to make something good out of nothing. Between them was a strength sufficient to move mountains, but it was not enough to keep my parents together.

The marriage lasted eight years. When it ended, Neta and Grace continued their pact for the two things they still had in common: My sister and me.

I was 2 years old. It took no effort on my part, none whatsoever, to become both women’s favorite granddaughter. (My sister claims she was the favorite, but trust me, I know better.) Their constant and abiding love for me was a gift, free and clear. It was also my first lesson in grace, and to this day, I count it a blessing.

From the time I learned to walk until I left for college, my favorite place on Earth to be was with either of my grandmothers. As it happened, I spend much of my childhood with one or the other. I don’t know whose house I loved more.

One lived in a small town, surrounded by people, where she could know all there was to know _ who, what, when, where and how much they paid for it.

The other lived on a mountain, surrounded by nature, where she could know all there was to know about plants and creatures, the changing of seasons, and the quiet reassurance of living close to the Earth.

But here is how they really differed.

My mother’s mother was preacher’s wife who seldom set foot in church. A mischievous woman, a steel magnolia, she wore white gloves to go shopping, played cards with abandon, and swore under her breath like a sailor. She loved her husband almost as much as she loved Jesus. But she could not abide, she said, certain members of the congregation, or any other fools who thought too highly of themselves. Being with her was pure adventure and a whole lot of fun.

My father’s mother was a farmer’s wife who seldom left the farm except to go to church every Sunday. She traveled through the pages of National Geographic, and with the turning of leaves, the migration of geese and her own vivid flights of imagination. She grew tomatoes and dahlias, hiked for miles to pick blackberries, read novels, wrote poetry and painted sunsets on stones. She made everything better, from doll clothes to biscuits to loneliness. Being with her was pure adventure and a whole lot of fun.

But growing up in the care of two such women had an odd effect on my nature. I inherited both women’s characters, not necessarily their better traits. Like two sides of the same coin, both are who I am. But you never know which side will turn up. It drives my husband and children crazy.

I’m neither alto nor soprano, can’t hit the high notes, can’t touch the lows. But sometimes, when the music gets too hard for me to follow, the notes will start to dance, rearranging themselves, until I hear myself singing with a entirely different voice, a three-part harmony all my own. And it doesn’t sound half bad.

Comments

  1. Theresa A Brandt says:

    I truly enjoyed “Echoes if two grandmothers”. As a grandmother of five, I long to see what memories I will leave with them. They all love their “Nanny” and, sometime,s, claim “MY Nanny” — my to my delight and with love.

    My Nanny, my mother’s mother, was the other most important woman in my life, holding down the fort of home and my brother and I, while my mother worked. We moved in with her and my Grandpa when I was 18 months old and the first, and happiest, home that I remember. My other grandmother was much older and in poor health — she was unable to give me more than my family on Dad’s side. We shared love — no small gift.

    Being from Italy, Nanny brought traditions and shared special gifts with us, me particularly. Not having technology to help entertain us, except for TV, she sat me down with a needle and thread to teach me how to sew. She was a strict teacher.

    Her early occupation of making fur coats made for exacting skills. Her love of sewing began a lifelong love, which my mother helped cultivate, of this special talent.
    I sew for myself, my home, my family and also for our lical community theatres. In this time of pandemic, I have been able to help make masks for our frontline healthcare, which as a retired nurse, has given me a purpose to be able to help, even a little.

    This morning, your story brought so many memories back to me. And, like you, her personality, as well as my mother’s, will pop-up without warning — it can be “interesting”!

    Thank you for starting off my day so nicely, bringing back poignant and sweet memories, with a soft smile along with them.

  2. William L Thomson says:

    I really enjoyed your “Echos of two Grandmothers” column. The last paragraph especially echoed for me. From piano lesson from my mother, through grammar school and high school band and choir, I learned to read music, but my ear for pitch doesn’t always match the composers key as written. As a result, I often “fake it”, and use my own harmony. When it works out well, there is a feeling of satisfaction, and appreciation for what my instructors taught me so long ago.
    I wish my grandparents had been as close to me as yours were.
    I often read your column, and always enjoy them. Family is important.
    xx Bill Thomson, Booneville AR

  3. Kate Sciacca says:

    Well now, that was a beautiful treat…. missed it the first time around… might have had something to do with five kids, a husband and two parents to feed and water back in ‘93 (three more were still just a “thought in the mind of God” as my dear mama would say).

    Two grandmothers… you were greatly blessed. God provides.

  4. Katie says:

    Fun, fine memories. I am blessed to be a grandparent & now a great grandma. Praying for your protection and all in CA.

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