Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I was a painfully shy child who seldom saw my grandparents. Dad's folks lived in Ohio and I don't recall them ever coming to Michigan when I was a child. Dad was the baby of his family and I came along when my parents were 37. That was old for parenting in 1952, especially when there weren't 6 children between the first and last born. That perspective was my mom's, one that I think was common at the time.
We didn't go "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house" as in the song I used to sing in grade school as Thanksgiving approached. My dad worked out of town for most of my grade school years and was only home on weekends. I don't know how much of that contributed to our infrequent visits to Ohio, or maybe the emphasis on holidays was just different then. I think it was. Think of old movies and 50's TV shows. Lucy and Ethel might have made Thanksgiving dinner together (in that teeny, tiny kitchen!) but even Lucy's mother wasn't at the table.  A big difference from Home Alone (1990) where all the relatives were not only together but going on a destination holiday!

My mom's dad died when she was 14. Grandma Mary remarried quickly because in 1929, a woman alone did not run a business. Grandma Mary was born in (then) Yugoslavia. There are so many questions I would ask both my parents if they were here today, details I didn't realize would be interesting or important when they died in 1978 (my dad) and 1983 (mom). Mom's parents were born in Serbia and Croatia but met and married in Detroit. Her only sibling, a sister, died in infancy when my mom was six (I think).  With dad being the baby of his family, there is no one left to ask some of the questions I think only their generation would know.

Mom's stepdad was a horrible man. He beat my grandmother and she feared he would beat or sexually assault my mom. Grandma would wake my mom up in the middle of the night and press money into her hand to take the streetcar to her aunt's house. Two years after marrying him, my grandmother was granted a divorce. This was not common in 1932.

I don't know how long after that grandma and her sister closed the dry cleaners/tailor shop, but it was there that my parents met. They married in 1935 but I don't know how long they dated. So many questions....

The beatings at the hands of her second husband took a toll on Grandma Mary. Whether it was all psychological or if her brain was actually bruised and altered, her opinion of men after her second marriage was lower than low. She trusted none of them, not even my father who held my mother in highest regard and supported his mother-in-law as best he could. While staying with my parents, she became delusional one night and attempted to get to my dad in his bedroom, armed with a butcher knife, intent on killing him. I was 22 and engaged before I heard that story. The marks were still visible on the bedroom door despite being filled in, sanded and painted over the years.
Grandma Mary became a vagabond. She worked as a domestic, but never (to my knowledge) near us in Michigan. She worked in the south, in the west, even as far away as Alaska. Mom would get a call from Traveler's Aid that her mother needed money wired to purchase a ticket to her next destination. How that must have broken both of their hearts. Other than occasional letters, my mom never knew where her mother was or how she was doing until the call for money. Sometimes the person making that call would be harsh. How could she treat her mother this way? How do you explain to a stranger what has taken place and that grandma wouldn't stay in any one place for long no matter what you did? She would occasionally show up, unannounced, in her wanderings. I remember those visits as tense and sad. She always left before my dad came home, and that was her doing.

From my paternal grandparents I got my love of roots. My home is HOME in all caps. From Grandma Mary I got my love of travel, but I always, always, always need to come home. Home to this house, to be near my sons, Bill's brother's family (two generations) that are all nearby, and to my friends and neighbors.

I don't remember ever hugging my grandparents. I'm sure we kissed goodbye, but I don't remember any tickles, any fun secrets, anything that made me miss them after we parted. They were strangers to a shy child they didn't really know.

Fortunately my parents taught me that grandparenting didn't have to be that way. Dad died six short months after my older son was born, but he had such fun plans for what they would do together. Mom died 5 years later. Arthritis limited what she could do physically but it didn't stop the sharing of love and cuddles. Her best friend, my godmother, was Grandma Laura to my sons from the time they were born until her passing in 1999.
My husband didn't know his grandparents at all. His parents were 43 (mom) and 55 (dad) when he was born. His father died a few months short of Bill's third birthday. He witnessed his mom as grandma to his nephew and nieces, and we both learned from my mom and Grandma Laura.
I hope that 30+ years from now, Colton and any other grandchildren that might be yet to come will know this story of our pasts and be happy with the choices Bill and I have made in being grandparents. I'm not worried about that, I'm just happy to say this grandpa and grandma are enjoying every minute of this part of our lives.


michelle said...

What a thought provoking post, thank you for writing it.

I wish my mother had been a real grandmother to my sons and her other grandchildren for that matter. But she was an orphan at the age of four and raised by her oldest sister and her husband, who was abusive to my mom, so she had no examples of how to be a good mother, let alone a good grandmother.

A coincidence, my grandmother on my father's side was also divorced and took in boarders to support her and her four children.

Another coincidence, my grandmother had a sister and her family who lived in Detroit. I remember visiting a week after the riots, which were only a block from their house, scary times for a nine year old.

All I really know of my grandmother's childhood is that she and her family fled Poland when she was 13 and when they arrived here in the states, her mother was refused entry due to having TB. But my grandmother was a tough broad who I knew loved us. She didn't like my mom though and unfortunately after my father left, we kids felt like we had to choose sides. But before that happened, I loved going to her house on holidays and Sundays for dinner. Those are precious memories.

I don't have any grandchildren and may never, my son and his wife haven't really decided yet, though I am hopeful. My oldest sister is expecting her eighth in March and she is a terrific grandmother. I hope that if I'm blessed with a grandchild, I'm as good of a grandmother as she is.

Chatty Crone said...

If it wasn't your family or it was just a story - I would say that it was extremely interesting.

I am sorry that your grandmother was abused. Abuse can change you forever.

Sewconsult said...

So glad that you shared your grandparents' stories. I only had one set of grandparents, but lived in the same small city. My grandmother's sister once told me that I had terrible grandparents. HUH? They were kind, loved us, but didn't show it with hugs or words. We just knew.

Kelli said...

What a post, Knitty. So honest and touching. I was blessed with an amazing grandmother who also happened to be my very best friend. :) I cherish every moment I ever got to spend with her. She passed away when I was 21 and still I miss her terribly. I wish that my children could have known her as I did. My other grandmother and I would have been terrific friends, too, had she lived long enough. She passed when I was 6 and my memories of her are hazy.
Colton is one lucky little dude to have you and Bill for grandparents. :) Isn't it amazing that our history can not only show us the best way TO do things, but also the best way to NOT do things? It's sad that your grandmother battled the issues she did, but in the long run it has helped to make you a terrific grandmother!

Rudee said...

Holy Smokes! What an amazing family tale you have. Thanks for sharing.

While I have no grandchildren yet, I've not lost hope. I take delight in the baby who does come to visit every Thursday and look forward to some of my own.