I am caught between two grandmothers, and for the life of me, I don’t know which way to turn. I don’t know which one to follow.
I had two equally wonderful, but absolutely different grandmothers – Grandma Harrison and Grandma Kay whose name was really Grandma Lombard, but we called her Grandma Kay because that was my Grandpa’s nickname. You know how things go in families. Things don’t have to make sense.
Anyway, my Grandma Harrison lived in town in Shelby. She was 60 when my Grandpa died and lived the next 35 years on her own, more or less. She belonged to every club in town for women of her era. My dad and uncles teased her because every day it was a different club, same ladies. She walked every place in nylons and heels and carried a purse that weighed a ton. She wore lipstick and dusting powder and even though she was not flashy, she always wore a pin on her suit that was usually a pretty shade of blue. She tucked lace hankies in her sleeve. She played the piano at home and piano and organ at church, and she’d play the wedding march a million times over when my cousins and I played getting married. She was really nice, one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, and she made the best potato salad in the world. It was so good, our neighbors and friends even asked her to make it. Her secret was unsweetened whipping cream and the slightly chipped bowl she served it in.
Grandma Kay lived in the country, first on a farm, then in the woods near Stony Lake. She smoked cigarettes, never turned down a game of pinochle or cribbage and always won, and I mean always. She was as handy with a .22 rifle as she was a pair of knitting needles or crochet hook. She could whistle any bird’s song. The birds followed her on her walks in the woods, a spontaneous call and response, a chorus from the trees. She always had fresh-baked bread or hot water molasses cake to offer, or she just might send you into the garden with a salt shaker and tell you to help yourself to tomatoes. The story goes she once took a broom to a bull that had the audacity to snort at her. When she and Grandpa moved into the woods, every morning, she used the broom handle to lift a Blue Racer sunning itself, and she’d fling it down the hill. I didn’t know until I was an adult that she was scared of snakes; that it was an everyday act of courage for her. She laughed, a lot, and she swore, a little, under her breath, and there were days she didn’t see anyone until my grandfather came home from work. She was 72 when she died.
I live with their memories every day, and their lead.
No one had to tell my Grandma Harrison about the healing power of women’s friendships, social connections and a deep and abiding faith. She had somewhere to go every day. She had people who relied on her. And she went to a lot of ladies luncheons that sustained and nourished her with more than that day’s chicken a la king or Jell-O salad.
On the other hand, no one had to tell my Grandma Kay that nature sustains our souls or that it does a body good to have a little “sit-down” in the middle of the afternoon. She believed in the healing power of laughter that drew people to her, a good cup of coffee and a door always open. When you left, you always had a little something to take home to eat.
So what’s the problem?
Believe it or not, I started thinking about which lead to take, which path to follow, when I bought a corn broom – an honest to God, old-fashioned corn broom – to sweep my front porch. Grandma H. swept her front porch every morning, and Grandma K. brushed off the steps and flung the blue racer. As I was sweeping, stirring up dust and imagery, I felt just like my grandma, which is such a good thing, but which one? I always thought by this time – mostly retired, officially in the autumn of life – that I’d know which approach made me the happiest, the most contented, the most satisfied.
But I do not.
I know; it is not an either/or decision. I can be a little of one, a lot of the other, a balance of both, but I’m having trouble seeing myself these days and knowing who I am. So I stay caught, straddling my grandmothers’ worlds, seeking refuge in the women they were.
Oh, by the way, I should tell you that at some point, Grandma Harrison threw out all nutritional advice and decided to eat only ice cream for lunch because that’s what she wanted. And Grandma Kay hired a cleaning lady. The first time I visited her on what happened to be cleaning day, the two of them were playing cards at the kitchen table.
Either way, I hope I’m seeing into my future.
Susan Harrison Wolffis is an award winning writer known for her engaging writing style.