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Seaborn: Grandma, what fine memories I have

Posted: May 14, 2017 - 1:51am

"Women may have worked harder 50-100 years ago, had fewer conveniences and held less status in the community than men, but they didn't feel like second-class citizens or deprived. They accepted their roles and were happy because they did."

- Conference speaker; name unknown

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Several years ago, while attending a women's conference, some of us couldn't help wondering why the leaders had chosen another "male chauvinist" to address us - until the gentleman asked us to share memories of our grandmothers with each other. It wasn't hard to remember mine.

Helen Carver raised seven sons in a succession of rundown farmhouses and cramped cottages few women would tolerate today. For most of her life, indoor plumbing, electricity and running water were things other people enjoyed, not she. My grandfather rarely held a steady job and she'd had epilepsy since she was in her teens.

I rack my brain for signs of discontent, but they weren't there. Phenobarbital controlled her illness, and all those men in the family kept her supplied with water from the well, produce from their well-tended garden, and meat from their own chickens or the shop where my grandfather was a part-time butcher. When she wasn't busy with the household, she kept journals, wrote hundreds of letters and practiced the music she would play in church on Sunday morning. And for some reason my own consumed life still can't understand, she always had time for me.

I don't remember that she ever held me on her lap, told me she loved me or bought me gifts - except for a miniature broom and dustpan with a long handle for Christmas when I was about five, so I could help her clean house. I don't remember that she ever requested a gift from us, either, or for anything about her life to change, but I remember so much more.

I remember her fresh biscuits and apple pies, and the wringer washing machine in the kitchen she let me crank; the flat irons she taught me to use without scorching the clothes; and the little dish mop for washing dishes so we could pour really hot water over them and not burn our hands.

I remember the ginger tea she gave me when my stomach hurt; letting me eat crackers and milk right out of my glass; and, especially, canning all those jars of fruit, vegetables and berries we would feast on all year long.

I remember wanting to be with her every chance I had because she never stopped telling me stories about when she was a girl. Most of all, I remember she never let a visit go by without going to the old upright piano in the corner and teaching me to play the instrument that would someday dominate my life.I rack my brain for negative words about her, too, but I heard none.

Her family and the community adored her; everyone called her "Mother." (In fact, for years I thought Mother's Day was created just for her.) And less than a month after she died of a heart attack at age 78, her husband of 54 years died, too. "Natural causes," the doctor said, but we all suspected it was from a heart ailment of another kind.

Other members of the family may have done better by today's standards, whatever that means, but no one in my whole life, relative or otherwise, ever had the influence on me that this woman did. Today, I play the organ or piano in church on Sunday and have spent many years teaching others how to play both instruments. I also enjoy writing - letters and journals for myself or publication - and I, too, look forward to visits with my grandchildren. Among my most prized possessions are her antique wall mirror, a battered trunk with her initials on the side and a small, black suitcase containing many of her journals.

As the years pass, I notice another of her legacies: a growing contentment with the circumstances of my life, too. This, I now suspect, as the speaker whose words I initially rebuffed meant, is the real reason for her long, happy and emulated life.

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Barbara Seaborn is a local, freelance writer and author of the book, As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County's Past. E-mail comments to seabara@aol.com.

 

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