My daughter signed me up for a website that asks me to respond to weekly prompts, sharing about my life and memories … thoughts to be passed down to the family. I haven’t been very good about keeping up with it … sorry, Honey … but a couple of the prompts have lined up with things on my mind at the moment.
This week, the prompt was to write about someone who was a positive influence during my childhood. I started typing without really knowing who I was going to write about … turns out to be Grandma.
Grandparents … and our senior citizens in general … have been taking up a lot of my “thinking time” during this pandemic. It crushes me to think of the elderly isolated and withering away ALONE in their homes or rooms in a senior home … lonely … afraid … sad … scared … alone … alone. (Repetitions intentional.) Some I know have died without their family at their bedside because of restrictions. Awful …
I won’t stray any further into what the pandemic is doing to our elderly… as it’s not what the prompt or my response was about. I’ll just add that all this COVID stuff, especially during the holidays, has made me nostalgic.
Here is my response to the prompt from my daughter with a little more added in.
Who Had the Most Positive Influence on You as a Child?
I feel like I had a lot of good influences as a child. One that stands out first is Grandma (my mom’s mother).
It’s funny because as a teen, I think I was pretty hard on Grandma and didn’t see her as a good influence because she had become a hermit and shut herself off from people. She didn’t like to go places and had stopped driving long before I was born. I guess I saw her as someone who was very afraid of life and therefore weak. She started a lot of sentences with “Aren’t you afraid” … and by the time she finished asking, I guess I was afraid too.
For her struggles with anxiety and fear, Grandma was an amazing person. With Mom so busy wrangling four kids and Dad trying to juggle enough work to keep us all fed, Grandma was our extra bright spot. She had the time to fuss over us, play with us, and make us cookies. Lots of cookies. We always said that Grandma pretended she was making the cookies for us, but she was the one with the sweet tooth.
From Grandma I learned that the trick to good cookies was making sure that the butter and sugar were fully creamed. She made me do this with my hands so that I could feel what it took to melt the ingredients together until I could barely feel the sugar crystals any longer. Eventually I would use a wooden spoon and could tell by the color of the mixture when it was truly ready for the next ingredients.
Peanut butter cookies (I loved making the patterns with a fork as we smashed down the dough), snickerdoodle, and ranger cookies (cookies with cereal and nuts in them), and occasionally brownies … filled her little kitchen and its pink plaster walls with scents of love.
Ice cream was another of Grandma’s sweet tooth staples. Her favorite was Marigold’s Strawberry ice cream with chunky pieces of frozen strawberries imbedded. She usually had Chocolate Ripple, and Tin Roof Sundae on hand as well. If there was only one serving of Strawberry left we knew what we would be having … it would NOT be the Strawberry. That’s about the one thing I remember Grandma standing resolutely on … the Strawberry was HERS.
For not liking to be in groups of people, Grandma always had other people on her radar. She was a very loving person, always mindful of others. She sent birthday cards faithfully, called the little old ladies in town on a regular basis (always referring to them as the “old ladies” as if she wasn’t one of them), and kept up with all the graduations and big events in the lives of her many nieces and nephews and their children. She made sure there were flowers on all the family graves at Memorial Day, and kept my imagination alive with stories of her childhood and of family memories about people I only knew through photos because they had passed on before I was born. She received more Christmas cards than anyone I knew, probably because she was so faithful about sending them out and including a personal hand-written letter. (She would not be a fan of the modern form letter popular these days.)
If someone was in need, Grandma would have my Mom get money from her bank account and send an anonymous letter with some cash tucked in. She was very generous with us kids and it was because of her we had a lot of basic things like school clothes and new shoes covered. Because she didn’t like to leave the house, she gave us money at Christmas and birthdays. We never minded, because the older we got the bigger the numbers got on those checks!
Even for all of the fears she battled (probably stemming from a battle she had with a brain tumor in her forties and a challenging marriage to Grandpa, who drank too much sometimes), she had a deep and simple faith in Christ. We used to sit at her organ and she’d play hymns from the old German hymnals she had. She didn’t like to go to church any more even though it was a block from her house, but only because it meant being in a crowd. She cherished visits from the Pastor and parishioners who checked in on her regularly. She read her bible often and tucked in notes from the radio preachers who inspired her.
Grandma filled my childhood with scented memories. I got to spend a lot of Friday nights at her house. (Each of us kids took turns having a special night.) We, of course, baked cookies, and we ate frozen meat pies, heated up in her oven as soon as the cookie making was done, the smells of that pie crust and the meat, vegetables, and gravy tantalizing me. I loved bathing in her oversized claw foot tub, filling the bathroom with the aroma of a rose garden from the bubble bath she kept on hand.
She kept a closet of toys and puzzles for us, took me on walks, read books, taught me to crochet, taught me a lot about gardening, instilled a love of flowers, and of story telling. And most of all … a love of all things sweet.
Although my siblings and I may have been good excuses to bake cookies in excess, those cookies … and every ingredient … and everything else we did together … speak to me of a fully invested love from my Grandmother. Can’t think of a much more positive influence than that.
This was all I wrote for my daughter … but I think a “cookie post” is on it’s way. I recently came across a box of some of Grandma’s treasured recipes and I’ve been thinking especially about her gingerbread cookies.
But before I go … what about you … any special memories of a grandparent’s influence? Or someone else in your childhood? Or maybe it’s your turn? Are there any special traditions you have with your family?