Happy Birthday, Grandma

Today would have been my Grandma's 100th birthday. And while I know that she was ready to leave us at 82, I selfishly wish she was still here all the time.

I remember interviewing her when I was studying the depression in high school. "How did your family's life change when the depression hit?" I asked.

"It didn't," she replied.

Her dad had left when she was pretty young, but through my great-grandma playing piano in movie theaters and a wide network of aunts and uncles, they'd always had enough to eat and wear. It took me about 10 minutes of questioning to discover all this, because my grandma was more interested in recounting all the fun times she'd had during the depression than anything, well, depressing.

Years later, the family assembled in Ohio for her 80th birthday celebration. She'd moved out of her beloved house/town in Pennsylvania a few years earlier to be closer to family, so we were all piled into her small apartment, visiting and watching some kind of sport on TV. I discovered her 1930s era high school yearbooks on a shelf in the corner.

And yes, I mean discovered. My grandma was a pack rat of the highest order, and even though she'd purged a lot in her move, her place was still filled to the brim with stuff. 

I began to look through them and ask questions. Soon she joined me on the couch to walk down memory lane. I was looking for wisdom; she wanted to tell me which boys she'd found cute and which ones she'd dated.

Both of these were much higher numbers than I'd expected. They were also much higher than the numbers my own grandchildren will hear should they ever peruse my yearbook with me. 

I didn't see the wisdom in our discussion for a long time. Knowing my grandmother was boy-crazy was not going to help me decide what to do about my imploding first marriage, I'd thought.

I didn't see her choosing what was worth holding onto.

It didn't gel with the perception I had of my grandmother. I saw her as an overprotective worrier, who demanded my mother call her after arriving at destinations, who didn't want 12 year old me reading 17 magazine, who got nervous from my dad's driving. I saw her as someone who always assumed the worst. And she did - when she was anticipating the unknown.

But every time I asked her about the things she'd survived:  the depression, or how she'd coped having my mom at 20 and my aunt at 21 and divorcing soon after, or surviving 2 more husbands, or surviving cancer, she told me a funny story.

Usually about dating or marriage. Sometimes about her adventures with her cousins. 

She was convinced that every plane any of her family members took was doomed to crash until she heard otherwise. . .but if she'd actually survived a plane crash, her story about it would have involved how she got extra packets of peanuts or something.

I am slowly learning to focus on the positive as I tell my own story - hence this post instead of a regular Trophy Tuesday. She taught me so much more than I ever gave her credit for.

My first solid memory of my Grandma involves a trip to a Woolworth's, or somewhere like a Woolworth's.

Hey youngsters, if you're too lazy to look up Woolworth's, read this. 

There was a ride in front, a horse that went up and down that I'd been looking forward to for the entire trip through the store. Finally, Grandma took me out to it and I proceeded to imagine that I was riding a real horse. I was debating asking Grandma for another ride

I was her youngest grandchild. I think I learned how to exploit this before I learned to ride a bike. 

when I realized that she was talking to two kids by the door. I had an immediate aversion to them.

Grandma had missed me climbing off the horse all by myself because she was talking to them! 

But it wasn't just jealousy, it was fear. I'd never seen kids in such dirty clothes out in public before. And they were glaring at me AND my grandma. My instinct was to run as far away from them as my approximately 5 year old legs would carry me.

I looked at the parking lot of giant cars in front of me and decided to hide behind my grandma instead.

The girl seemed angry that my Grandma had offered them change to ride the horse, but eventually relented enough to let her little brother ride. He exclaimed he'd never ridden on one before.

It took a while for my young brain to process that. I genuinely didn't know about people not having an extra nickel or two for a ride.

Grandma came up with reasons for us not to leave until the kids' mom came out of the store. Looking back, I can only assume that she wanted to check her out. And give her all the change in her wallet.

In the car I got a tiny bit of a lecture on being more compassionate and less bratty, though she didn't use quite those terms. But the way that she reached out to those unpleasant-seeming kids stuck with me forever.

I'm so lucky that she was my Grandma for as long as she was.

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