Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Meditation on Grandmothers

Even before my new grandson joined us - from the moment I learned of his existence - I pondered who I would be to this newest member of our family. Grandmother or Baba, as I called my grandmothers? Granny, as my children called my mother? Nannan, as they called my mother-in-law?

Grandmother, wishing once again that we'd fly right.
Grandmother was a force to be reckoned with. She was an elegant, articulate, Southern with a capital S woman. Adored by her children and adoring them, but with very strict notions of religion, propriety and society. Notions as silly as chiding her young granddaughters for waving at the soldiers in a convoy lumbering down East First North Street in Morristown, TN. Or as chilling as refusing to share a taxi home from the market with a black woman in the late 1960s. Or as saddening as her deep sigh upon learning I was engaged to marry a Roman Catholic.

Yet so much that I am comes directly from her - my love of books and reading, my penchant for men who are awful, awful punsters, my loves of history, genealogy, and opera. She was a devoted mother, as was her daughter, my mother. Visiting down home was a thrill when I was young, perhaps because Mother was so full of joy, or perhaps because of the wide open arms and smiles that greeted us when we pulled into her driveway after the long drive from Connecticut. She had wonderful things awaiting us - old sunbonnets and clothes to play dress ups, the complete Five Little Peppers series of books, perfumes and bath beads, and two drawers full of treats (toys in the dining room and candy in the kitchen). Even in college, when my friends and I pulled in for dinner on our way to New Orleans for spring break, she came flying out the back door with arms spread wide and plied us with food, coffee and sandwiches for the road. And yes, there was a gelatin salad.

Baba and two of her
I always thought I'd be a Baba. I've identified with my Carpatho-Rusyn heritage my entire life, saw much more of Baba growing up than Grandmother, and had a much less complicated relationship with her. She exemplified the unconditional love I associate with grandmothering. I cherish the memories of dinner at her house, of shelling peas from her garden or teasing her about ironing the aluminum foil to reuse, of kneeling in the church yard with the Easter baskets to be blessed, of watching her brush her waist-length hair and feeling her brush mine.

I share her quick temper, her fierce devotion to her family. It is my constant prayer to share her faith and work ethic.

When Mother chose Granny as her moniker I was startled. I don't remember her using the word when talking about her own grandmothers, but she told us then it was what she called her paternal grandmother.

Granny and the rest of us on tour. Children's clothes by Granny.
Granny, like my own grandparents, was a long-distance grandmother. We laughed at and loved the clothes that rained down on the grandchildren. (I am already imitating this trait.) She adored being with the babies, rocked them for hours and loved to hear of each new accomplishment as they grew. We travelled together, toured and sat for hours on various beaches as sand castles were built and washed away. She made sure the grandchildren had their New York City adventures, times with their cousins and had a special room set aside for them at home in Connecticut.

She was a character, as well, slipping off when we visited to her very unfinished basement for a cigarette and glass of wine. Should one of the grandchildren go missing odds are he or she would be found perched on a lawn chair in the basement, next to the cobweb ladened bomb shelter their grandfather built at the height of the Cold War, working with Granny on a New York Times crossword puzzle, ringed in smoke and nibbling on the tic-tacs she'd share. It drove me mad.

She thought of each grandchild often, and in her last days spent time sharing her hopes for them with her husband and daughters. One of her final conversations with my young son involved her funeral, my funeral and a hawaiian shirt. Apparently there will be a pig roast when I die. She was irreverent, witty and lived life on her own terms. My children adored and adore her.

Nannan with her lap full.
Their Nannan almost defines grandmother. She rocked, listened, laughed, hugged or scolded as needed. Fussed over their meals, played countless card games (graduating from Go Fish to Bull___), toured aquariums and battlefields, saved bread for them to feed the ducks, proudly introduced them after mass, remembered every story about their childhoods (not to mention their father's and her own) and is still at it. She's now a very proud long-distance great-grandmother.

So which will I be? Probably a little of all of the above (the best parts, I pray). But I'm going by Granny these days. I'm still not sure why, except it felt the most comfortable.


  1. You will be a superb Granny. I can just feel it.

    Dee at Shakin' the Family Tree

    1. You're so sweet. Misguided perhaps, but thank you. At least I won't blow smoke rings round his head.

  2. What a poignant remembrance of all these unforgettable women. I so totally relate to your struggles in contemplating your "Grandmother" as I have the same ambivalence toward my own mother, who held many of those same characteristics. And yet, I realize that I've become my mother, and those traits that I value came to me through her--and, whether I like it or not, will be passed along to my daughter, too. That little daisy chain of life certainly is unavoidable, it appears.

    Actually, much of what you had to say resonates. I think if we ever got a chance to sit down and visit together, you and I, we'd have a lot to share about both our Southern Lady roots and our Connecticut/NYC lives.

    1. Thanks so much, Jacqi. I suspect you're right and would love to correspond privately. You can email me directly at nolichuckyroots at gmail dot com.

  3. I'm about to become a grandmother (in July) and have been thinking about being a grandmother. I had only one example when I was a child, my mother's mom, who lived down the street from us. I was probably more comfortable with her than any other person.

    I've thought, too, about what I will be called. Over the years as I've talked to people and they mention their grandmothers, I've noticed that many times the grandmother is called some variation of a child's mispronunciation or inability to pronounce the word grandma. Perhaps my first grandchild will decide what I'll be called. Whatever it is, I hope I'll be the kind of grandmother my own grandma was.

    Your own grandmothers sound very special and I love the photos. You'll have to repost this sometime in March for Women's History Month....

    1. What a joy to look forward to, Nancy! I've found it an amazing experience. Lot's of layers of emotions.

  4. Being a grandmother, or nana, or oma, or omi, or grams or gramma or - - -

    Well, it is a wonderful thing, touching, moving.

    We have experience, those tears of a painful belly due to a gas bubble don't even shake us. Pat that little one on the back till the bubble comes forth.

    We have the time to count toes, sing songs, tell family stories to them when we are alone with them.

    Laugh until we cry when they laugh hysterically at us.

    Watch adoringly as they slide down the slide and smell a fresh spring flower.

    And, then, we get to send them home spoiled to the core, and let the parents worry about the rest!

    It is out of this world fabulous.

    You will be a great "Granny".

    1. Thank you, oh guru. You've had twice the fun - and well deserved.

  5. You are destined to be the best grandma! Your memories have stirred a few in my mind about to my own dear grandmothers....both of which were nicknamed by I guess that's the perogative of the oldest grandchild. Enjoy.

    1. One of many perqs of seniority! Thanks, Linda. I intend to enjoy every moment.

  6. I loved reading this post. It was so poignant -- not a word I use often. For obvious reasons I could identify with on so many levels. The post obviously caused a reaction among your geneabuddies -- I loved reading their comments, too. We are blessed.

    1. We are indeed. In many ways. Not the least of which are our friends.


Comments related to the information shared here are most appreciated. All comments are moderated, and since I am not actively researching right now it many take a day or two for your comment to post. Please know that it will post, and that I much appreciate the feedback.