Thursday, January 14, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
Grandmotherhood is a rewarding career
I grew up in a good, basic Mississippi household. We had what we needed, and we did not think much about the luxuries of life. Most other people were like us. I did not know any really rich people, so that the temptation to crave and yearn for the things lots of money can buy did not trouble my young mind.
Sure, I wanted that big, shiny Lionel model train locomotive in the catalog, but it cost, maybe, $20. I knew that was impossible, even for Santa Claus, so I was content to admire the picture, and let that be that.
I was especially blessed because my grandmother (mother’s mother) was part of our household, so that I was never without a family member at home to watch over me. That made me “rich,” although at the time I just took it for granted that all children were surrounded by loving grandmothers like mine.
Grandmother presided over our kitchen. She was the specialty cook. Born on a farm along the Missouri River in 1879, she was the eldest of six siblings — all of whom lived into their 90s.
Grandmother lived to 96. She and my grandfather moved to Mississippi in 1926, bringing with them three children — the fourth, and eldest, my Uncle Bill, was already in college at the University of Missouri.
I am quite sure that nobody ever asked my grandmother if she preferred the calling to be wife and mother over, say — say a career in the big city.
She lived before such options were even a possibility, except for the adventuresome few, and so I doubt my grandmother ever raised such questions in even her own mind. Her life’s path followed very closely that of her mother, that of her sister, and of all the female relatives in her family.
She and my grandfather grew up on adjacent farms. They attended the same one-room school. Grandmoth-er said she advanced quickly in the little school because she would listen as the older children repeated their lessons.
When she married my grandfather, who was a college professor and dean, she read widely and taught herself, so that she could perform her responsibilities in the academic circles in which he moved.
Grandmother’s presence brought an atmosphere of cultivated domesticity into our home that I can best compare to the character of “Aunt Bea” played in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. My grandmother was not as assertive as Bea Taylor, but could certainly cook as well.
I did not ponder upon any of this until I went off to college, and the way it came home to me still brings a smile. When packing to move into the dormitory, I went to the closet in our home where the sheets and towels were stored, and got a few things off the top of the stack.
It was only later, when I made up my bed at the dorm, that I was greeted with laughter and teasing by the other fellows who, I realized to my great embarrassment, had not been sent off with embroidered sheets and pillowcases!
My grandmother, you see, was deft at all kinds of sewing and needlework. She would cross-stitch any item that would hold still for the treatment.
Our house had crocheted doilies on every table, beautifully decorated hand-towels — every pillowcase and sheet got the “treatment,” and grandmother even crocheted beautiful, full-sized lace tablecloths for each of her daughters and daughters-in-law.
If she was sitting, she was doing some sort of handwork.
I had never even thought about the fact that all of our family’s sheets and pillowcases had lace attached!
Needless to say, when I realized that this was a masculine faux-pas, I quickly ducked out to the dollar store and bought a set of garish green-striped sheets in good ’70s college style.
There are still a few of my grandmother’s embroidered items in my linen closet. Now they are too precious to use. Besides that, they would have to be ironed after washing.
I love the advances of recent times -- air-conditioning, permanent press, color television, my laptop computer and cell phone — things my grandmother never had.
But there are aspects of life that passed with her generation — a sort of gentleness about life and pleasant additions to the home.
Things in our economy have changed to the point that most families need everybody working outside the home just to get by. But it was my grandmother’s “little” touches — actually they took hard work, for which she received no financial compensation — that were so endearing — real mashed potatoes, iced tea with every meal, homemade rolls on Sunday, roses from her garden.
Yes, even the embroidered sheets and pillowcases for going off to college.
I hope we don’t forget that in our mechanized, mass-produced, off-the-shelf America.
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