The importance of grandmothers
I think my grandmother is haunting me. She has been much on my mind of late. Just the other morning I awoke with a perfect portrait of her rising in my mind's eye. Through the lens of memory she gradually came into a hard, sharp focus: 4 feet, 10 inches tall, 105 pounds, grey curly hair, honey brown eyes, voluptuous hourglass figure. She appeared in her customary Sunday-go-to-church dress, high heels (sensible little-old-lady shoes were not her thing) and a pill box hat perched jauntily upon her head. Everything she wore was a vivid and riveting red. It was, after all, her favorite color. She was 80 years old and she was just shy of spectacular.
The hat thing, I think, is hereditary. My grandmother was seldom without one, and neither am I, but that's where our similarity ends. I am 5 feet, 8 inches tall and a far cry from 105 pounds. I do have curly hair, but my hazel eyes are my father's.
Something occurred to me as I watched her fade back into the ether. I am the youngest of her grandchildren and at some point I may be the last person to remember her alive; the last who can attest to what she looked like, who she was and what she stood for. As a result, I feel a certain obligation to try to draw her portrait with words, to capture the essence of her, if I can, and freeze her in time.
So I've already told you what she looked like. As to who she was, her name was Marion Michael McCormick, born in 1888 in rural Missouri and married to my grandfather in 1910. She was engaged before she met my grandfather, but she broke it off because —and I love this — "I didn't like the way he held the buggy reins." She and my grandfather actually eloped, and when they returned, they parked their buggy outside her father's house, remaining safely behind the gate while my grandfather shouted the news that they were married. Who she was, was also my mother's mother, destined to suffer bringing her daughter into the world by breach birth without benefit of anesthesia and attended by a country veterinarian. Remember, she was 4 feet, 10 inches tall, 100 pounds. And people wondered why my mother was an only child.
What she stood for was more complicated, but I would have to say it was for moral integrity, strength and kindness. She was also fiercely feisty and protective. My father used to say, "That woman isn't five feet tall, but she's got a voice that has 10 feet of do-what-I-say in it." Basically, you didn't mess with
I was lucky — I got to be the recipient of the kinder side of her nature. When I was little and severely ill, she would come and sit with me by the hour. She barely left my side for the six month duration of the illness. Once I got older, I continued to spend time with her and my grandfather. Our habit was to go to the ice cream parlor every Sunday for a Tin Roof Sundae. Even when I was a teenager, there was always the Sunday sundae.
Years later, my grandmother suffered a heart attack. We brought her home and I was able to spend many precious moments talking to her. After a few days, when I was on my way out to go to work, she suddenly said "Kay Cora, do you want to get some money from my purse for a Tin Roof Sundae?" I hadn't thought of our shared ritual in years, but I instantly felt like a little girl again. It seems somehow appropriate, now, that it was the last thing she ever said to me.
When I think about my grandmother, I remember that she was true and fierce to the last. I also remember that when I was growing up, she had an unfailing belief in me and that she was always there for me. Always, always there, in bad times and in good.
She was, you see, a grandmother.