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52 Stories in 52 Weeks no. 19—Remembering Grandma

I remember both of my grandmothers so well—the Homesteader and the Flapper. They could not have been less alike, but I thought they both were great. Neither lived in the same town as me, so I looked forward to their visits. They usually stayed at our house at the same time for a couple of weeks in the summer and a couple of weeks at Christmas time.

The Homesteader

My Dad’s mom, Grace Riddle (1896-1976), was born on her mother’s Nebraska homestead. When she was about four, her mother could no longer care for her, and Grandma Grace went to live with an aunt. This woman had already raised her own family, and Grandma probably provided a good deal of help around the ranch her aunt and cousins ran. When the aunt died, she left Grandma a portion of her estate equal to that of her own children.

Grandma Grace seemed quite elderly to me even when I was a small child. Having grown up on a homestead at the turn of the last century, she was very old-fashioned. She wore housedresses and hose supported with ring garters. She never wore makeup. She had no television or telephone at home and did not understand how they worked. Nor could she comprehend why anyone would need them. She had no checking account and paid for everything with cash. Grandma liked to read, and she read every word of the newspaper every day.

Whenever Grandma Grace came to visit, we always eagerly asked whether she needed help unpacking her suitcase. We knew it was filled with trinkets for us. She delighted in collecting small items to give us each time she visited.

She liked to play with me. We made mudpies together, and we shared tea parties. When I was small, we took naps together on hot afternoons. She fell asleep easily while I continually asked whether she was still awake.

Her favorite household chore was washing dishes. That was my job at home, so she liked to help me. We had great conversations as we cleaned up the kitchen. She was interested in everything I did—school, choir, piano lessons.

Grandma Grace had six children, and she knew how to talk to kids. She shared little about herself, instead asking questions to draw us out in confiding in her. I was fortunate to have her for a Grandma.

The Flapper

You would never have known that my Mom’s mom, Martha Mattila (1906-1977) was the child of immigrants from Finland. Although she had spoken only Finnish until she started school, she spoke perfect English by the time I knew her. She had gone to college and taught elementary school.

Grandma Martha was a city girl from Minnesota. She had come of age in the roaring 1920’s. Grandma Martha loved shopping, dressing up, getting her hair done, and makeup. As a girl, I was fascinated with her morning routine of choosing a stylish outfit and “fixing her face”.

Grandma Martha enjoyed gossip. As soon as she arrived at our house, she would settle in, light a cigarette, and proceed to tell us the news of our extended family. She knew the dirt on everyone and did not hesitate to share it. Memories of these conversations really helped me reconstruct my family tree when I became interested in genealogy.

Grandma Martha encouraged me in things a girl should know. She exhorted me to continue with my piano lessons when I became discouraged. She helped me with embroidery projects. She taught me to play card games. She bought me thoughtful gifts that I remember after all these years—a leather-bound Bible, a bonnet-style hairdryer.

She liked jewelry and wore a lot of costume pieces. When she tired of something, she gave it to me. I still have some of her necklaces and bracelets. I wore one to my youngest son’s wedding in memory of her.

Their Legacy

I remember both of my grandmothers as being very supportive of me. I knew them equally well even though they lived in other states. I loved when they came to visit, and I always begged them to stay longer.

Both expressed the wish to live long enough to attend my wedding. They both made it! One of my favorite wedding photographs is of my groom and me standing with my grandmothers.

Each of them contributed in her own way to the person I am today. From Grandma Grace, I have a love of reading and a frugal nature. From Grandma Martha I learned life skills. From both these women, I hope I learned to be a good grandmother.

 

 

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