Christmas – Missing Grandma

by | Dec 25, 2017

I have had the privilege of knowing and being related to many remarkable women.  Our blog is largely a tribute to my mom’s mom, Tillie, who shaped our lives in so many wonderful ways. It is also a vehicle to regularly interact with two of the most amazing women I know, my aunt and my mom.  Among my close relations, there is another woman whom I admired and loved completely, although we were very different people.  This close relation was my dad’s mom, Luella, who is featured in our book in the vegetarian meal chapter as well as the last chapter about eating from the garden.  She was thrilled to be in our book!

This is my family’s first Christmas without grandma.  She lived 96.5 years and set an example through the way she lived that will always inspire me and make me wish I could have known her longer.  She was born when not everyone owned cars, air travel was very new, and indoor plumbing was still a luxury.  In her life time the world around her went from planes to space shuttles to retired space programs, from home phones to cellular phones, and the advent of home computers, to our world where computers and the internet run everyday life.  She was born three years after WW1 ended, lived through WWII, Vietnam which drafted a son, the Cold War and many other uncertain times.  She had to bury a son and her husband of 58 years.  She lost a pregnancy and broke off an engagement.  She worked as a nurse for over 50 years and then volunteered at the hospital after retirement until she was physically unable. Out of this long life and the circumstances it gave to her, my grandma became the woman I knew.  She was very PRACTICAL, decided not to WORRY or STRESS about most anything, did not WASTE anything, cherished her family and friends, loved NATURE, and choose to SERVE others and her church and follow her FAITH.

We wrote about Grandma’s practicality in our cookbook, because even the recipes she liked and the way she organized her everyday life were simple.  She didn’t like to make a “fuss.” She would have said if you had a good recipe that people enjoy, then why mess with it. As a result, we now remember Grandma when we make a layered salad, brownies, or green punch (we will share this recipe in a later post).

Grandma and Jen w Salad

Grandma’s ability to not worry was likely her strongest gift and also a trait that I cannot seem to replicate.  There were numerous times she would tell me stories about things that went wrong and I would lament or say something like “Oh my goodness.  I am so glad you are ok.”  Or, “I am sorry that is upsetting.”  Or “What are you going to do about that.”  And, her responses didn’t change much, but they often made me laugh because they were so out of the norm for most people.  She would say something like, “Well, there was nothing I could do about it so I didn’t think much more about it.” Or, “Worrying won’t change anything so I’ll just wait and see.”  One time grandma fell and needed help getting up.  The ambulance came, but there was snow on the ground.  She was telling me about the whole ordeal and how the ambulance couldn’t make it up the hill and then the paramedics had to hike up and were slipping and then they loaded her on the stretcher and she commented that she thought they might fall carrying her down the hill to the ambulance.  I was saying “Oh grandma I am so sorry. I bet you were scared.”  Then she looked at me like it hadn’t occurred to her to worry about it and said “Well, honey, that was just the kind of day it was. I guess if they had slipped we all would have taken a spill.”   I am a worrier, even though I know I shouldn’t and I know that it won’t help.  So, often, I find myself thinking: “Well, this is just the kind of day it is.  Stop worrying.  Your grandma lived to be 96 because she didn’t worry over anything.”

Anyone who knew my grandma knows that she was frugal and definitely never wasteful.  But it wasn’t until we cleaned out her home of 50+ years that I saw that more than ever.  Grandma kept close track of every penny, nickel and dime in journals.  She washed out and carefully stored in plastic bags and twist ties Styrofoam takeout containers for re-use.  She kept perfectly stacked new kitchen towels that she received as gifts in her cabinets even when the ones that she was using were slightly tattered.  Oh boy, and my parents could talk the whole day about what she had prepared and stored in her two freezers!  In 2016, she found Bing cherries she had frozen in 1979. My mom was trying to throw them away and Grandma said no, she was planning on eating those.  So Mom served them to her and Grandma pronounced them a bit flavorless but just fine. Then she finished the container! Nothing was wasted in her house. Although her generation and the life she lived undoubtedly taught her to take nothing for granted and not be wasteful, I also think this is the kind of woman she would have been even in a different era.

Some of my earliest memories of grandma were in her backyard with her showing me how to cut roses.  Her patience and her love of those roses remains with me. All my growing up years we had bounty from her and grandpa’s garden and later their greenhouses.  I am so happy that my son was able to pick cherry tomatoes and other favorites at her house and will also have memories of “gardening” with grandma.

Her love of the outdoors went beyond just her garden.  She filled tons (bless her) of photo albums almost entirely with the scenery that she and grandpa saw and loved as they traveled in their retirement years.  They traveled all over the United States and Canada in a travel trailer, with their favorite destinations including Oregon and Washington. Nature, gardening and the outdoors were a source of happiness and solace for her.

Grandma cherished her family most of all, but her love was never a big “ta-do.”  Her love was shown simply: in the endless hours she spent reading stories to my brothers and I when we were little (“just one more pleeeease”); how much fun she and grandpa had together; how obvious it was that she and grandpa were each other’s best friend; the photo albums she proudly displayed on her coffee table of her grandkids; the crafts and photos collected from her kids and grandkids over the years that filled her house; her laugh and smile when she was with us; and the long hugs and “I love yous” that she gave more and more freely as she grew older. There was never any doubt she loved us.

As we are preparing for our Christmas tomorrow, my grandma’s presence is already missed.  She, even more so in her last years, brought with her a presence of contentment and a life well-lived.  Being around contentment is actually quite rare and it honestly refreshed my soul when I was with her.  If she was still here I would like to ask her to give me one last Christmas gift…the secret to finding contentment.  I know she would answer something like this: “Well, I haven’t put much thought into that, but I will say just live your life each day without a big fuss, always be ready to help and love others, and trust God that it will all work out.  Then if it isn’t perfect, oh well, it is your life so live it and enjoy it.  You only get one.”

My wish for all of us this Christmas is to be happy in this season of celebration, cherished by our loved ones, healthy enough to enjoy the nature around us, and practical enough to let 2017 enter the history books without a second thought to its’ lack of perfection but rather with contentment over the wonderful memories made.

I am Judy and David’s daughter and Mel and Tillie’s and Fred and Luella’s granddaughter. I am the beaches and coast, lakes and steams and mountains of California. California is in my heart and soul, where I grew up, and it will always feel like home. My family and my oldest, cherished friends are there and dotted around the West. But, I am also downtown Chicago where I walked to work in knee-high snow and the shores of Lake Michigan where my husband and I strolled pulling my son behind us in his red wagon so he could learn to pump a swing and build sandcastles at the playground on our local beach.Read More

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