I’ve been told a time or two that I’m tough. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because I rarely take sick days from work and honestly rarely get sick enough to require the use of sick days. Not that it’s really possible to take full-on sick days anyway. The unpaid job of “Mom” doesn’t allow for such.
Maybe it’s because I gave birth to all three of my kids without an epidural or any kind of pain medications.
It could be because even when I’m going through some pretty traumatic emotional situations — and there have definitely been a few of those throughout my life — I typically respond by pulling myself together and carrying on.
I guess in certain respects I would consider myself to be fairly tough.
My toughness, however, can’t hold a candle to the toughness of a couple of women I’m proud to be descended from — my grandmothers.
My Nana is 95 years old and my Grandma Iris is 88. These women are remarkable in so many ways.
For starters, they’re still here. The changes they’ve seen and things they’ve experienced in roughly nine decades of life are mind-boggling in many respects. I recently came across a quote about grandmothers by Helen Ketchum that said, “Grandmothers are voices of the past and role models of the present.” How true.
At the age of 15, my Nana lost her own mother. Her father was a sheepherder who was gone for stretches at a time, so Nana was on her own a lot. She attended her high school prom with my Papa before he went off to fight in the Pacific during World War II.
Unlike some of my friends whose grandmothers were primarily at home, my Nana worked. I remember visiting her in the little store at the Wyoming State Hospital, where she worked for years. She’d take me to the canteen to get a “Cokey pop” while I chatted with some of the patients. Obviously, this was decades ago, when it didn’t seem to cross anybody’s mind, especially mine, that it might be any kind of problem for a child to be visiting her grandma and chatting with psychiatric patients. Such a thing would never be allowed these days.
Nana has always been meticulous in her work. After my Papa passed away almost four decades ago, she continued to work part-time as a hostess in a local restaurant. I remember being told by her coworkers that her register was always exactly on when it came time to close it out and account for all money at the end of her shift, down to the penny. I like to think I’ve taken after her in my own work ethic.
I spent quite a bit of time at Nana’s when I was a kid. She’d show me how to dance to her big band records featuring lots of Glenn Miller. Nana has always loved to dance, and I’m told she was quite the dancer (and maybe heartbreaker) at various social functions. As an adult, I once held a party at my home and Nana stopped in — and proceeded to be twirled around my living room to some 1980s dance music by a friend of mine as she completely upstaged all of us.
I’m fairly certain I didn’t inherit any type of dancing skill from her (though my daughter certainly may have), but I did inherit a love of dancing. It’s something I take great pleasure in and I’ve decided it doesn’t matter if I’m technically any “good.” What matters is that I love it as she always has.
She taught me how to make cherry pie with a lattice crust, even though I’ve never really had the patience to use that knowledge as an adult. She explained to me that my dad’s favorite cake — white cake with white icing sprinkled with coconut — is known in our family as “pickery cake.” Don’t ask me why or what a pickery is. I still have no idea.
Taking pleasure in cooking is something I have inherited from both Nana and Grandma Iris.
My Grandma Iris makes hands-down the world’s best roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy. It is so good, in fact, that I’ve become a gravy snob and routinely refuse to eat any type of store-bought or restaurant-prepared gravy. My mom and I can make some pretty decent gravy after years of practice, but our efforts still pale in comparison to Grandma’s.
She is the mother of seven children, grandmother of 20, great-grandmother of 44 or 45 (I’ve lost count) and great-great-grandmother of 4 (I think). She still manages to remember everyone’s names.
Grandma loves her family. While I was growing up, she hosted family gatherings every Easter and Christmas. At Easter, if the weather cooperated, she would set up elaborate egg hunts in her backyard. Sometimes she would use yarn and set up what looked like huge spider webs strung from the trees. Each grandkid would have to find his or her name on a popsicle stick at the end of a piece of yarn and unwind it as it wound and looped back and forth, until finally reaching a special Easter basket at the end.
One year, I think much to our parents’ chagrin, she surprised us all with live bunnies and ducklings for each of us to take home.
We continue these traditions to this day, though now we have to rent a building for the gathering because there are simply too many of us to fit in any one home.
It is perhaps from her I inherited my love for the written word and reading. She used to love reading Edgar Allan Poe stories aloud when I visited, barely containing her delight at the creepy parts.
Grandma taught me how to have fun while working hard. Seemingly no matter the job — cooking, cleaning, construction, gardening or anything else — it was done with a whole lot of laughter. She spent years managing the Best Western Dunmar and Legal Tender Restaurant. I still have people come up to me to say, “Your grandma taught me how to work.”
Perhaps her secret to making work so much fun is her sense of humor. Grandma is hilarious. I’ve often said she’s not like a “regular” grandma at all, because one never knows what is going to come out of her mouth, including inappropriate jokes or a whole mess of profanity.
In these later years she’s had some health issues. I know she’s been in pain quite a lot, but I rarely, if ever, hear her complain. She just gets on with her day and doesn’t make a fuss.
Both of these women have seen struggles and challenges, but they have always continued to face it all with fortitude, grace and a lust for life that has kept them active and seeking new adventures. Of all the gifts they’ve given me, it is that attitude I most hope to emulate and instill in my own kids.
I am so blessed to have had these women in my life, and my children have had the invaluable opportunity to actually get to know and establish memories of their great-grandmothers.
They’ve both been struggling with their health a bit in recent days. For perhaps the first time, I am really starting to see the years of experience, and perhaps wear, in their eyes. I’ve found myself reminiscing frequently and reflecting with a sense of awe on the joys and sorrows they have witnessed.
If I can claim even half the strength of these women, who are the very epitome of tough, I will consider myself lucky — and tough indeed.