Last Wednesday, June 5th, marked what would have been my grandmother’s 80th birthday and marked the 13th anniversary of her death. Maw was my daddy’s mom and was a constant influence on my life growing up. I grew up just a few miles down the road from the farm my grandparents lived on, where my grandpa (Paw-Paw) lives now, and that is still our family’s home base. My dad often took my brothers and I over to “The Farm” on Sundays. My brothers, far more adventurous than I, would wonder off in the woods to do whatever boys do. They also tagged along with Paw-Paw (my grandpa) and my dad as they headed out to cut firewood. The boys usually left me to hang out with my grandmother. This was a situation with which I was well pleased.
I was (sorta) her first grandchild and the oldest granddaughter. So many of my childhood memories took place on our family farm. When I think about who I am as an adult woman I can without hesitation say I would be different if she had not been in my life. The song “For Good” from the musical Wicked says:
I’ve heard it said / That people come into our lives for a reason / Bringing something we must learn…/ I know I’m who I am today / Because I knew you… / I have been changed for good
As I reflected on my Grandma’s birthday last week I was reminded once again of all the ways she influenced me in the 16 years we spent together. In her honor, I thought I would share a few examples.
- Cheerios- I stayed with Maw and Paw-Paw a lot growing up. Every morning Maw and I would start our mornings with a bowl of Cheerios. Even to this day, gluten free diet and all, you can still find a box of Cheerios in my pantry.
- Hands off the Nose- I have a vivid memory of being very little (maybe 4 or 5) and being at church with my grandparents. My nose itched and as I reached to rub it Maw leaned over to whisper that we should never touch our noses in church. I don’t think I have since.
- Music- I started taking piano lessons when I was just 5 and every time I went to the Farm, Maw wanted me to give her a concert. Even when my concert wasn’t that good, she was always encouraging and my biggest fan. She fostered a love for music in me. One year for Christmas she wanted us to make her a tape of the family performing various Christmas songs. My aunts, uncles and cousins all came over to our house and with the accompaniment of my aunt’s guitar and my keyboard we “recorded” a Christmas tape. This tape also included a specially authored, one of a kind, Christmas “rap”. I’m pretty sure that was her favorite Christmas gift ever. We still pull it out most Christmases and laugh.
- Silent Night- All these years and new Christmas songs later it’s still my favorite Christmas song.
- Bingo- Maw loved playing Bingo and taught me as a little girl. Rarely did trips to the farm fail to include a game of Bingo. When I was in grad school some of the RDs and I would go on Thursday nights to a Bingo hall. While I enjoyed the social outing, I couldn’t help but feel that Maw was there with me each game.
- Coffee- While my parents drink coffee like it’s water, I attribute my love of coffee to Maw. She was a late sleeper as far as farm life goes. Paw-Paw would go to bed and wake up earlier, while Maw was a night owl and slept in a bit. I have vivid memories of her morning routine. She’d get up and fix her coffee (in the same white coffee cup and the same sugar/creamer ratio my dad used for years) and leave it sitting on the counter to cool while she made the bed. Somewhere along the way I started sneaking in the kitchen and stealing her coffee. I’d sit on the stairs and try to drink it before she noticed. Despite her warnings that coffee would stunt my growth, I think she kept leaving it within my reach on purpose. For the longest time I would make my coffee with the same creamer/sugar ratio she used and each sip took me back to those mornings.
- Mashed Potatoes- In our family there is a right way to have mashed potatoes. The number one rule is that after you’ve mashed them and you cut butter into the potatoes, you do not stir the potatoes. The little butter lakes are the BEST part of the potatoes. Maw always got to go first so she had first dibs on the potatoes. Every time I scoop out a well of potato and buttery heaven I think of her.
- Dressing Balls (See the picture below)- All of our family holidays are a potlucks and everyone chips in at least one dish to the occasion. Maw always made our traditional dressing balls for Thanksgiving. She would make the dressing/stuffing from scratch and then formed little stuffing balls of goodness, baked them for a bit. Finally, they are topped off with homemade turkey gravy. There is no written recipe for the stuffing. My aunts have taken over this responsibility and each year they get a little closer to Maw’s. As best I can tell we are the only family in the world that does them this way. This of course means we are the smartest.
- Chocolate Pie- Every year for her birthday we celebrated with homemade chocolate pie rather than cake. I find myself favoring pie over cake most of the time and each year around June 5th I seek out a slice in her honor.
- Being Feisty- Maw was one of the most loving, encouraging women I know, but she also had her share of spunk. She wasn’t afraid to offer her opinion or mess around with people. I loved listening to my grandparents “bicker” while making dinner. They were high school sweethearts who absolutely loved and adored each other, but it was so fun to hear them go back and forth about the how of making something. They were never mad and mostly never serious. I’m pretty sure I inherited some of that.
Most importantly, I learned from Maw about being a woman. She was faithful, funny, loving, encouraging and confident. I am luck to have been able to grow up with such a example of what a woman, wife, mother, and grandmother should be. I know that her influence was crucial in my becoming the woman I am today. Never a day goes by where I am not aware of her influence. Every year her birthday is a reminder and causes me to stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving. Not everyone grows up with their grandparents around and not all grandparents are as awesome as mine are.