Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Today is my grandmother's birthday. It's an easy date for me to remember as she always joked that it was "a date which will live in infamy". I don't know what year the picture above was taken, but that is how I often think of her. A kind and gentle woman, but photos don't show that she was also independent, creative, and even rebellious if it meant doing what she believed was right.
Born in 1904, she became a schoolteacher as many women did then. She met my grandfather, but didn't let the fact that Ohio schoolteachers weren't allowed to be married in 1927 deter her. They ran away to West Virginia, got married in secret, and kept that secret for a year by living apart. I marvel at the courage it would have taken to defy her parents, society, and jeopardize a job she loved and needed. She told me, "It isn't fair that a woman should have to give up everything of herself when she marries."
I was the oldest grandchild of five, and while she always made me feel as if I was special, I think my sister and cousins would all say the same thing. Even though we lived more than 400 miles away, my grandparents came to visit us at least four times a year and we spent two weeks with them every summer. Those were glorious days when she taught me to knit, sew, crochet, garden, and cook. On walks through the woods she showed me how to identify trillium, bloodroot, and dig sassafras roots for a spring tonic. I'm not sure when we started calling her G'ma, but she loved it and it stuck.
G'ma was an excellent seamstress, sewing dresses for us for every occasion. This is my sister and me in new dresses, with our mouths and hands full of the licorice and gumdrops G'ma kept in the canister in the kitchen, just because she knew we loved them. Her sewing abilities extended to drapes and slip covers, almost always without a pattern, but fitting perfectly.
G'ma excelled at traditional "women's work", but didn't think twice about doing "men's work", too. This is the cabin that she and my grandfather built, and the outhouse that she dug a six-foot deep pit for. I wish I had a photo of the wood-burning stove inside where she cooked meals, and baked bread and cakes, after she had chopped wood for it.
Because I know how much G'ma loved me and appreciate everything she taught me, I think of her almost every day. Sometimes it's when I'm making dinner (city chicken because cubes of pork and veal on skewers used to be cheaper than chicken). Other times it's when I'm thinking about taking some half-assed shortcut and hearing G'ma's voice saying, "That's not how we do things, Bonny!" But it's always with love because I would not be the person I am without G'ma.