We have a LOT of cousins! My grandma on my dad’s side was one of 6 – 3 girls (each had 2 children) 3 boys (each had LOTS of children – I never have been able to keep track of just who goes with whom!).
My grandma was a true matriarch and kept everyone tied together in any way possible. She spoke of relatives who were very far away as though they were part of our lives – as a result they were in some way always connected to us. We knew of the Arizona cousins (and the crazy video-taping that will be related in a later post) – the many Michigan cousins, the square dancers in WA and so many more. She read their cards and letters to us and just chattered about them as if we all could keep track of who in the world she was talking about. She did it up until she died – she would call on Fridays – she had a list – she would call and talk all day (her daughter had the free Friday calls plan and hooked her up!) – We did some family reunions over the years – but it truly became too difficult to arrange that many family schedules. So she just kept it up. She took some of us on trips together to promote bonding – something her daughter has also done with her own grandchildren and I admire it greatly. I hope I am able to do similar things – although I am much older as a mom so would expect traveling with grandchildren may become difficult while using a walker!!
Ok – so a cool thing happened, my Dad and mom came to Clearwater – as had his uncle Quilan and his wife, Hazel (youngest of the three sisters). His sister came later – with her family, then Grandma and Grandpa moved down. They had a seasonal place but made it permanent. The third sister, Bernice, also had a seasonal place in Clearwater. So we had a wonderful time growing up – spending many weekends at Grandma and Grandpa’s house – it was cool, our cousins would be with us as well. We spend countless hours in the ‘kids bedroom’ at my Grandma’s house. Playing dress-up, playing barbies, and just using our imagination in so many ways. It was an adventure- always! We loved being there. Grandma would lay on a twin bed with us and tell us amazing stories of her childhood. They always sounded like adventures even though she felt like she was just telling us about her. An example: She and her sisters would walk to school in Michigan and they got in trouble frequently for convincing Hazel (the baby) to do silly dares like walking on the frozen-over creek (not fully frozen!). We would laugh and ooh and aah at exactly the points she wanted.
She taught us to dance the Charleston and the Foxtrot, she ‘set’ our hair and put us under the dryer, to love Tennessee Williams and watch the news. She made us the center of her universe and we always knew we could talk to her about any and everything. She was honest. That was something that made you feel like you had to be – which is cool.
I remember a particularly silly thing that has always stuck with me, I’m not certain why. I got my ears pierced the year I turned 12 (another crazy story!) – and that Easter she got me earrings. They were identical to ones I had just gotten and Grandma walked me into her bedroom and had me choose a pair of her earrings in exchange. It made me feel so special and I loved that ‘new’ pair. I overheard another adult relative tell my Grandma in not so quiet words how ungrateful I was…no so, Grandma said – and said something much more positive about me. I don’t know why that stuck with me except that it was such a stark difference in adult behavior between these two women – and I was clearly very impressionable.
Anyhow, Grandma always put family first and did it without a thought, just matter-of-fact about it. She was about notes, letters, calls and visits. From her I learned to love all of these things. I have written notes and cards most of my life (though less these days) – to the point that people have frequently commented on it. From her I learned to love stopping by to visit friends – a now almost lost ‘art’. I think it is a wonderful thing to visit neighbors and friends – to go for a Sunday drive, to seek out news of loved ones who are no longer near – and I think my Grandma would LOVE facebook! That is so funny to me but she would – she would laugh and giggle and would remark on the things we shouldn’t be saying or doing so publicly.
She lived thru the depression and taught us things I hadn’t realized: when she and my Grandpa got married, they kept it a secret so that they both could continue to work. Could you imagine someone doing that today? Also, as the eldest, she got money to go to secretarial school to learn typing skills. She had an apartment and her sister, Bernice, came to live with her. They made a keyboard out of paper on the kitchen table and each night after school, she would teach Bernice the skills she had learned – so that they would both be employable. It is part of the determination of that generation to just DO. No questions, just figuring out solutions.
Grandma and her sisters traveled together for years — I think most of us have stories of the three of them showing up places. My dad’s cousin Wayne was at work in California when he looked up to see them peering in the window at the front of the building. This is funnier – because all three of them were under 5’2 and could almost have passed for triplets!
I am filled with respect for this woman who brought so much to so many, without being prideful or expecting anything. She just did. Thankful that God blessed me with her!