Monday, March 31, 2008

Depression Era Gems...

Monday mornings Lincoln has to be at work early, so I drive the kids to school. This morning dawned overcast with thunderstorms forecast in the afternoon. It's blustery and damp, like early spring days aften are. It's not quite raining, but mist wets the windshield and the air smells of wet earth. I dropped the girls off at the front door of the school and as I was pulling away, I saw an elderly woman crossing the drive in front of me. She was walking unevenly with a cane and wearing those gray, thick soled support shoes. She had a canvas rain jacket on and a scarf tied over her head. I wanted to jump out of my car and hug her. It seems the generation of women who wear scarves over their heads is almost gone. I was very close to my grandmother and although she's been gone nearly twenty years now, I still miss her terribly. I sometimes have a dream in which I find out that Grandma is still alive. It was all a big mistake, she didn't die afterall! We have a good laugh about it and spend a fun afternoon together. My grandmother had a rainbonnet, similar to the scarf, but made of plastic. It made a tent over her freshly set hair and protected her hairdo from the elements. I remember Grandma setting her hair in curlers, the plastic ones with a plastic sheath that snapped around the curl to hold it in place until it set. I especially enjoyed helping her take them out. I loved to pull out the curler and see the tight white curl bounce back against her head. I spent many hours at Grandma's house. I remember many times getting off the bus and walking immediately next door to Grandma's. She would often ask me to have dinner with her and my Uncle Paul, who had Down Syndrome. I would call Mom to ask permission. We were on a party line with Grandma and our neighbors the Propers. To call one another on the line we would dial 521 (I think it was) and hang up the phone. It would ring on both ends and you would know the person you were calling had answered when it stopped ringing. They would know it was a call from someone on the party line because no one would be on the other end yet. Almost always Mom would give me permission to stay. I'm so grateful she did. Grandma was a heavy smoker and she liked her soap operas, or stories, so I'm sure Mom had her reservations about me being there all the time, but she saw the importance of me being able to have that time with Grandma. I would help Grandma by getting canned goods out of the cabinet for her. She lived in a trailer with a small kitchen so most of her canned goods were stored in the bathroom in the cabinets under the vanity. It was hard for her to get down low to pull them out so I would dig out what she needed to prepare dinner. Grandma usually boiled chicken and to this day the smell of boiling chicken makes me think of her. Sometimes I would spend the night at Grandma's. This, I'm sure, really gave my parents cause for concern. You see Grandma would smoke in bed. She loved to read and she would lay in bed reading and smoking until her eyelids grew heavy. Most of her sheets had burn holes in them from her cigarettes. But they sometimes let me stay and I felt happy and comfortable tucked into the sheets with her. I don't know that she felt the same. She always accused me of thrashing around and kicking her in my sleep. In fact, I always thought Grandma was a really early riser because she would get up around 4:30am. But maybe it was just when I was there! I enjoyed breakfast at Grandma's. She usually had stale Cheerios and she would let me put as much sugar on them as I wanted. (That was a definate no-no at home). I remember eating scoops of sugar from the bottom of my bowl after the Cheerios were gone. Sometimes Grandma would take me to the Senior Citizen Housing for lunch. She would go there to have dinner with her friends and would bring me along. Everyone would make a fuss over me and she would proudly introduce me as "Grandma's Little Helper". Being with them really solidified my love for elderly people, and that generation in particular. People who had seen so much. People who had lived through the Depression and the War. People who had seen the world change so drastically. They witnessed the beginning of television, the invention of plastic, the switch to indoor plumbing and the implementaton of electricity. They saw the automobile replace the horse and heard their first soap operas on the radio. They knew what it was to go without. They knew what it was like to have a hard life. But they were sweet and happy. They also knew how to have fun. They knew that lightheartedness and dancing could ease the strain of the difficulties around them. That generation has almost entirely passed away in my family. My aunts and uncles are reaching the age that Grandma was when she died. I miss them. I miss Grandma. I think I will buy a rainbonnet in their memory.

3 comments:

Terri_B said...

What sweet memories. You were a lucky girl to have grandma live right next door.

You are a very talented writer. You should do something with that... Like start a column in the newspaper, or write childrens books?? I don't know, just don't let that awesome talent go to waste!

ERIN said...

I miss my Grandmas too. I am always in awe of Michael's grandmother who checks her email yet was born in a house that had no indoor plumbing. That generation has seen so much!
I am glad that you are recording your memories.

Jenn-Lee said...

What an inspiring read! You are a great writer Molly. I never lived close to a Grandma. In fact, one lived in Cal. across the country and the other lives in France across the ocean.I enjoyed reading your story very much. Thank you for sharing! I hope you print out your blog posts for a journal for your kids to read one day! That is so special.

Sorry I have been sucha stranger lately. I ahve been really busy and pre occupied and havnt really spent alot of tiem online. I did however finally post some easter pics. Whew. Its about time. :) Miss you ! Can't wait till May!!!