The basement is Grandma’s lair. And you never know what tales she’s telling down there.
This week, when Clark, the hospice chaplain, came upstairs after his visit with a puzzled look on his face, I braced myself. For literally anything.
“I learned something new about Margaret today,” he said, closing the door behind him.
“Uh-oh,” I said, every crazy story I’ve heard over the last eight years racing through my head.
“No it wasn’t bad,” Clark said. “I asked Margaret what was the greatest gift she’d given in her life. She told me when she was young her mother sometimes took in boarders. When she did, Margaret had to give up her room and sleep on the floor on a spot near the stove. At first her answer didn’t make sense. But when she explained that giving up her room was her gift to her mother, I understood how her answer fit my question.”
“Wow. I thought I knew everything about Grandma. But I’ve never heard that story,” I said, both surprised and relieved. Grandma’s filters disappeared a long time ago, so I was grateful she didn’t decide to share anything about her favorite topic, which is basically anything to do with her bowels. Rationally I know I’m not responsible for what comes out of her mouth, but if you’ve ever had a child blurt out something inappropriate in front of family, friends or even complete strangers, you understand the cringe of vicarious embarrassment.
Clark went on his way, but their conversation prompted me to think how I would’ve answered that question for her. From cars to tuition assistance to houses to live in, Grandma has given four generations of her family the support they needed when it mattered most. When I was young she and Grandpa bought a house for her widowed mother, my Mother and me to live in. When my Mother needed a bigger house for her growing family, they helped her out on housing again.
When I moved back from England after my plans to live there fell through, they bought me a car to get back and forth to work. When I found myself with a new baby and a year left of college, she and Grandpa bought my husband and I a house so I could focus on school rather than paying the rent. And when a nasty divorce left me reeling financially, she came through again, providing the down payment for the house that allowed me to finish raising my daughters in a neighborhood rather than an apartment complex.
My Grandpa provided the sweat equity that helped make those modest houses homes, but it was Grandma who provided the capital. From her humble beginnings on an Eskridge, Kansas farm, she went on to a successful career at Southwestern Bell. Between their two salaries and spendthrift ways, Grandma and Grandpa managed to provide for their own retirement and still help their family again and again. I help my own children whenever I can, but the modest gifts I’m able to give them pale in comparison to the ones Grandma gave me.
Of course not all Grandma’s gifts have been tangible. She’s taught me dozens of life lessons my Mother was unable or unwilling to teach. She married the man who became the best grandfather a girl could ever hope for. And she played the role of grandmother to every one of my girls, none of whom remember my Mother. The girls had other grandparents, but some of them were far away in England. They might not realize it now, but someday they’ll look back fondly on the years they lived with their great-grandmother. Despite the chaos and craziness, her presence in our household will give them a lifetime of memories and hopefully some insight into what being a family truly means.
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