Friday, May 18, 2018
My grandmother and me
I was six years old when I was adopted into my “forever family.” They quickly learned that I was a child who loved to talk and ask questions. They nicknamed me the Chatterbox. The 1940s were an era when children were supposed to be seen and not heard. So, I grew up with many unanswered questions about my new family and life in general.
My grandmother was probably my favorite person in the family. I had never known another grandmother and she became my anchor in every storm. She never raised her voice and always had time for me. In stature, she was short (4’11” tall), round and cherubic looking. In the style of the era, she always wore a house dress, an apron, stockings and sturdy shoes. She was always baking, cooking, working.
Grandma and Grandpa lived in a big Spanish style house where he grew a Victory Garden. My parents, sister, brother and I lived across the street. Our quiet neighborhood was high in the hills above Los Angeles before it became a mecca for the world. Sundays, we all went to church. Always. After Sunday supper, Grandpa and I went to evening services where I was a violin soloist.
I often walked to grandma’s house just to chat, eat a cookie warm from the oven, cry on her shoulder, feel her love and soak in her wisdom. If I was having a hard day at school she would smile, pat me on the back and say, “This, too, shall pass.” I would go home happy.
Cora Mae was born in Missouri in 1894 and married J.D. Rush from Texas when she was only 14 years old! Three years later their only child Portia LaVaughn was born. Their little family lived many places in the mid-west before moving to Mexico where grandpa was an oil field roustabout before settling in California. It was a hard life.
Looking back, I realize that I thought my grandmother could do anything. An expert seamstress, I watched her create beautiful quilts, doll clothes, church and prom dresses. She canned fruits and vegetables, entertained large groups and cooked scrumptious meals topped off with hand cranked ice cream on homemade pies.
She had also lived through two world wars; experienced women being given the right to vote and endured the Great Depression. Technology advances made her life easier. Things we take for granted: radio, electric refrigerators (formerly ice boxes), frozen food (remember Bird’s Eye?) and television opened a whole new world. She never learned how to drive.
In March 1957, Grandpa was taken to the hospital and not expected to live. I spent that night with grandma. She made it clear that she didn’t want to live without her husband. She was hospitalized and died quickly. Grandpa shortly after. I was 18 years old and It was the shock of my young life. But she trained me well. Life would go on.
I loved my grandparents but I poured out my heart to grandma. Selfishly, our relationship in life was all about me. What I was feeling. How I was doing. What I wanted to do with my life. Now, I look back and wonder why I didn’t ask more questions about her life. I wonder what her hopes, aspirations and frustrations were. What events had shaped her life to be a perfect grandmother?
As this Mother’s Day approaches, I would encourage you to remember that life is short. If your grandmother or mother are still alive you are blessed. Don’t miss any opportunity to get to know them better. They are special. Ask them about their lives as children and young adults. Find out what shaped them to become the people they are today. They will be thrilled that you care enough to ask and you will have memories to pass on to the next generation.
In retrospect, here is a short list of questions that I would ask Cora Mae, my wonderful grandmother:
1. What were your parents like?
2. Growing up what did you do for fun?
3. Where did you go to school?
4. Did you graduate from high school?
5. Did you have any special dreams for your life?
6. Where did you meet grandpa?
7. Why did you get married so young?
8. Did you have a wedding?
9. Who was your best friend?
10.What was it like living in Mexico?
11. What was the worst time of life?
11. What was your favorite time of life?
12. If you could have one wish granted what would it be?
13. What is your greatest joy?
14. Would you do anything over again?
15. Was I your favorite grandchild? (Please say ‘yes’!)
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and grandmothers!
Contact Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox at firstname.lastname@example.org