Monday, February 6, 2012
When Shane (child #3) was born, we were living outside Boston, about 100 miles from my maternal grandmother -- the closest we ever came to living anywhere near her rural New Hampshire neighborhood. Now Gram was a little more than a typical grandmother to me. She was THE family matriarch. Everyone listened to her and did her bidding. I never heard her raise her voice to anyone, yet everyone promptly carried out her every command.
Gram had a kind heart. She would help anyone in need. In fact, during the Great Depression she made sure that many people had food by hiring folks to work on her farm even though she did not really need all the help that she hired. She was never wealthy, but she always had enough. After her farm years, she moved to the city and spent the rest of her life working as a sewer in the textile mills. She was good, and she was fast. So, she made enough money for life's necessities, and she did a good job of saving as well. My grandfather worked there with her.
When my grandfather died at the beginning of my senior year in high school, Gram felt alone. She asked that I, as oldest grandchild, move in with her. I did, and I came to know her as more than a grandmother. She was a mother to me, too. She expected me to do a lot of work, but she never raised her voice to me, and she struck me -- a kind attitude that I had not experienced with my own mother. Perhaps that year alone was what gave me an alternative experience when it came to raising my own children.
I learned many things from Gram, one of the most important being to give without expecting anything in return. One time when I was desperate for tuition money in college, she sent me what I needed and said, "Don't pay it back; pass it on to someone else who needs it." I have done that all my life, and that is what I do with my children. I help them when they need help if I can, and I ask them only to pass it on to some one else who needs help when and if they can, and they do.
Another thing I learned from Gram was the used of Dentyne gum -- beyond just the breath freshening and teeth whitening. She would send me a package each month I was in college, wrapped inside a letter. Tucked inside the gum wrapper, between the wrapping and the gum, was a flattened $20 bill. That money, worth more in the late 1960s, often meant the difference between eating a meal and going to bed hungry. (I was a full scholarship student but one still had to acquire books, paper, clothes, and food.) Likewise, when Donnie and Shane were hiking the Appalachian Trail, I would send a package of Dentyne gum in the care packages of trail food that I mailed periodically to post offices in towns along the trail. Donnie was a spendthrift, but Shane was thrifty. He also knew the secret of the Dentyne gum. Once alone, he would pull out the $20 bill and when matters were desperate, he would happen to "find" a lost $20 bill on the trail. Donnie never caught on although you would think that he would wonder why Shane was so lucky at finding money so often just when they needed it.
And that takes me back to Shane's birth. He was such a healthy baby, and I was in such good shape from being an Army officer at the time, that the doctor sent both of us home just hours after his birth. Gran was shocked. In her day, women stayed in bed weeks after childbirth and spent most of their energy "dangling" (their legs from the bed to keep the circulation going). She could not understand how I could be home, tending to three small children, including a new baby, less than 24 hours after childbirth. (I was actually fine -- fit as a fiddle, having passed my annual PT test just a few days before Shane was born.) So, Gram moved in with me for a month to help, saying that her job was to do the housework and feeding and my job was to play with the baby. What a blessing! She knew just exactly what I needed to get Shane off to a wonderful start in life and keep the rest of the family happy.
Such was Gram! She, unfortunately, died of a minor illness at the age of 84 when given a transfusion infected with AIDS (before the disease was known to have infected blood supplies). Nonetheless, she outlived her father by two years (he died at 82 from falling down the stairs after the first visit in his life to a dentist -- he felt that dentists were unecessary evils but had been talked into a trip there). I am pleased that all my children did get to know her before she moved on to another level of life.