My Grandmother passed on in 1991, exactly 90 ½ years after her birth. It may not mean much at all, but I think her leaving precisely 90 ½ years after her first breath outside of her mother’s womb is something to take notice of. I’m sure there are others whose day of passing is just a special or even more so. I mention it just because she was a special part of my life.
Going to Grandma’s house when I was a kid happened once each month, and almost always on a Saturday. Mom, my little brother and I would get into the 1956 Mercury and travel to the downtown area to see her. I never did especially like going there when Mom would announce her plans for the day, but once sitting down on one of her old chairs and listening for a few minutes, I was glad Mom had insisted that I come with her.
Coming from the prairies of Nebraska and being half Ponca (Native American), she believed in a lot of the ‘old ways’. If a kid walks through her door, it must mean that he or she is hungry, so she fixes the kid a peanut butter sandwich. It took Mom a couple of visits to figure this out and correlate her visits with lunchtime. When Mom was a kid, Grandma was usually working so she didn’t notice this cultural quirk in her mom back then.
Grandma thought I was a little ‘peculiar’, as she put it. Why didn’t I want to go outside and play with my cousins and my brother? (She took care of some of her grandchildren to help Mom’s sisters out.) She said that I acted more ‘Indian’ than the rest of the brood. She said I was a ‘throw back’ from her earlier time in life.
What she was referring to was that I was more interesting in her stories than I was about playing with kids my own age. This was something the children of her generation would do back in the early 1900s. The fact that I was not like others of my generation wasn’t what was surprising to her. It was the fact that I wasn’t even acting like my mom’s generation. I had skipped all the way back to the one before that. What can I say? I found my grandma’s stories enchanting.
Grandma talked about her childhood in a home just outside of North Platte, Nebraska. She had been adopted by a great aunt and uncle and suspected that her oldest cousin was really her father. Her mother being Native American meant she was probably on one of the reservations north of the town. Because Grandma was obviously the youngest, her older siblings spoiled her. She was able to attend school until she was seventeen, which was rare for a girl back then. She also learned how to play the piano. No, this wasn’t something all that rare except for the fact that she was a ‘half-breed’ learning this European cultural art.
I also heard stories about the hard times during The Great Depression. My grandfather had died in 1930 so Grandma was raising four daughters by herself during one of the darkest times in American history. Although times were terrible, she told me about the funny and unusual things that happened to her, my mom and my mom’s sisters. During the 1930s there were times when all five of them went to bed hungry and not knowing if they’d make it through the next day. From her stories, I got the definite impression that an angel was often coming to their rescue.
I think my outlook on life is the result of all those stories I heard from my Grandma. I always believe that there is still a tomorrow and that day may be entirely different from today. I think I also learned a little about what real compassion is. It isn’t always being sympathetic enough to have comforting words. It also requires action when it’s needed.
Did you learn things from your grandma or another relative other than your parents?