“On the Road to Making Memories,” column for Nov. 25, 2014

Somewhere on the road between our home in Las Vegas, and the coast of California, where we planned to spend Thanksgiving week with our family, we stopped to eat.

The restaurant was filled with old photos and antiques, not quite a Cracker Barrel, but close. Waiting to be seated, I saw something that made me smile.

“Look,” I said to my husband. “My grandmother had an old sewing machine like that one.”

My mind filled with memories of watching my grandmother sit at her old treadle Singer making something grand just for me: A fancy doll bed for my paper dolls. A flowered dress with a twirly skirt that I would show off at Sunday School. A magic doll that didn’t talk, but told me things I needed to hear.

She made other things, too. She sewed her own dresses and aprons; cooked meals on a wood stove; churned butter with milk from her own cows; grew fruits and vegetables and flowers in her garden; and baked biscuits so light we had to weigh them down with jelly she made with the apples from her trees.

It seemed to me there was nothing she couldn’t make. Mostly, she made me happy.

When the hostess came to seat us, I forgot about the sewing machine until I saw it again on our way back out to the car.

Have you noticed how some thoughts just keep showing up until you think them through? Back on the road, it hit me: Most of what my grandmother made are things that I now buy.

Something about that felt so wrong, as if I’d lost or forgotten a precious gift, a piece of the fabric that made me who I am.

Sorry. That might be a bit of an overstatement. I get a little melodramatic when I’ve been trapped in a car for 300 miles. But it was a depressing thought, and I spent the next 100 miles trying to think my way out of it.

My life is nothing like my grandmother’s. By the time she was my age, she spent most of her time alone, rarely leaving home except to go to church.

She never used a computer, a cell phone, a microwave oven, a dishwasher, a vacuum cleaner or an electric dryer. She never drove a car. Her phone seldom rang, and when it did, she talked only a minute or so, because she was a mite hard of hearing.

On average, I travel more in a month, or even in a week, than she did in her entire lifetime. I will never cook my meals on a wood stove, wash my clothes on a wringer washer or churn butter from milk from anybody’s cows, let alone my own.

Maybe I could, if I wanted to, but I don’t. Given a choice, maybe she wouldn’t have done some of those things, either. Once, not long before she died, I told her that I wished my life could be more like hers.

“Don’t ever glamorize my life,” she said. “It’s been a good life, but it’s been a hard one.”

I would never “glamorize” her life. But I’m her granddaughter. And it pained me to think that while she was the kind of woman who made things, I’m the kind who just buys them.

Then I remembered the Red Monster suit. The previous week, I had flown to Los Angeles to spend a few days with my oldest in his new apartment.

And there in a box waiting to be unpacked was a relic from his childhood: the head of the Red Monster suit I made for him one Halloween with fake fur, yellow felt and a lot of Elmer’s Glue.

Talk about tacky. I wish you could’ve seen it.

“You kept this?” I said.

“Sure,” he said, grinning. “I love that thing. I’m going to frame it and hang it up.”

Family heirlooms come in all different descriptions and definitions. They’re as varied as the families that treasure them.

I don’t make all the priceless things that my grandmother made. I don’t even want to try. But sometimes, if I’m lucky, I make memories that money can’t buy.

Who knows? I think that might make her proud.


  1. Long ago I figured out that my calling in life is to be the audience for all of the lovely things that my artsy, crafty family & friends make. I am just not good at it (which is probably why I get bored with it really quickly). But I do enjoy being a receiver of their lovely talents and I truly respect the amount of time and energy it takes.

    Not much of a baker, so I appreciate hearing about biscuits lighter than air. My thing is cooking. I share my love through food. We all have our “thing”. 🙂

  2. Just loved this column like you loved your
    Grand mom like your kids love you including
    Your grand kids . Another wonderful column
    Full of wonderful memories . Loved each stanza
    Paragraph ,word and till end read each one .

Speak Your Mind