In my blogging and other social media posts for May, I have largely focused on the gifts and challenges of mothers. Today I’d like to offer some snippets of wisdom each of my grandmothers offered as I was growing up.
My mother’s mother, Grandma Wetzler, ran a food stall at Hollins Market in Baltimore, travelled around the world, and held the family together with her calm and steady presence. My father’s mother, Grandeema Bracken, knew all 47 grandchildrens’ birthdays, hated to cook anything but dessert, and always had a pithy quote to offer in response to a problem. Two very different grandmothers, yet each one offered me gifts that I still treasure to this day.
In addition to being an entrepreneur, Grandma Wetzler was a wonderful cook and baker. One of her baking specialities was cloverleaf rolls, which she always made for us kids when we spent the night at her house. When I was in college, she taught me how to make bread, but only offered minimal instructions about the kneading process, which she always said was the most important part. “Just knead it until it feels right,” she offered. But because I lacked her 50 years of bread-baking experience, I had to find a recipe that told me to knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it felt smooth and elastic. With that guidance gleaned from an old cookbook, I set off on my bread-baking career which continues to this day.
Grandma Wetzler was also an accomplished seamstress and made me and my two sisters all of our holiday dresses until we went to high school. When I was thirteen, she taught me to sew in much the same way she taught me to make bread, using a completely hands-off approach. She demonstrated how to cut and sew a skirt and then walked into the kitchen to let me make one on my own. Somehow I figured out the puzzle and managed to make a skirt with only one error—the darts were on the outside. An easy mistake to correct. After that, I went on to make nearly all of my own clothes for years and even established a dressmaking and sewing instruction business.
My grandmother Wetzler was a strong woman who inspired me all throughout my life. I never saw her cry or get discouraged, though I’m sure she dealt with many disappointments and challenges throughout her 101 years. When she was nearing 100, her favorite thing to do was to sit on her front porch and rock. When I asked her if she missed anything or ever got bored, she’s smile at me and say, “Honey, I’ve got my memories.”
We called my father’s mother Grandeema Bracken, probably to distinguish between the two grandmothers. Because she lived on the other side of town and did not drive, we did not see her as often as my other grandmother. Still, she had a powerful influence on my life. Every year when she sent me a birthday card, she included the day and time of my birth, and my birthweight, and length. I wish I had just one of those cards today.
Grandeema made it a point to tell all of us to take good care of our things so they would last. When I was about 10 years old, she gave me a slim box that contained a pair of tan and brown kid gloves and a hand-written note. The gloves were in perfect condition and buttery soft. They had been hers as a young woman, and she gave them to me as a special gift. I don’t remember the exact words of the note, but I know she emphasized the importance of taking care of those gloves so I could have them for a long time. I remember wearing them to church several times, and because I was a child, I managed to get them dirty somehow. My mother told me I could carefully wash them by hand and then stretch them out and let them dry on a towel. I’ll never forget how disappointed I was a couple of days later when they finally dried. Instead of the soft, supple gloves Grandeema had entrusted me with, the gloves were stiff and hard. I was embarrassed that I had failed to take good care of them and never told my grandmother. How I wish I still had them as a memento of her.
When I was in my 20s, Grandeema gave me a very practical, hand-held egg beater. As if to make up for my youthful carelessness with the kid gloves, I have managed to keep that egg beater and use it for the past 35 years. I still use it for whipping egg whites or whipped cream. Every time I do, I hope I am making my grandmother smile up in heaven.
Grandeema also left me with some very practical and poetic advice about the power of the written word. I hear her reminding me to be careful whenever I am tempted to fire off a quick email or write an angry letter to someone.
“Say it in flowers, say it in pink. Whatever you do, don’t say it in ink.”
This advice has saved me a lot of embarrassment and regret over the years. Simple and poetic.
I loved my grandmothers and still have wonderful memories of time with each of them. I’d love to hear your memories about your own grandmothers. Please share with me and my readers.