Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Tale of Two Grandmothers--for Grandparents' Day

When we were expecting our first grandchild, friends asked me,
“What will your grandchild call you?”

Interesting, because I never realized grandparents had a choice. My flippant remark was “Mrs. Yeary,” but of course, I wasn’t serious. When our first grandchild began to speak a few baby words, his dad would say, “Go to Granny.” The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Granny? I think not. I instructed him to say “Grandmother” to his young son, so the child would know that was my chosen name.

“Granny” was my daddy’s mother, and every grandchild called her by that term. The grandmother on my mother’s side answered to “Mama.”

Whether a Granny, a Grandmother, a Mama, or a Mimi, she holds a special place in the grandchild’s life. I inherently knew this because of my feelings for my grandmothers. Our first grandson—the only kind of grandchildren we have—made a deep impression upon my heart, and with that unique feeling came the realization that perhaps
 I did not know how to be a good grandmother.
What does it take?
 My "Granny" lived in a country house that lacked many amenities, such as running water and indoor plumbing. God love her, she also lacked teeth and good health. She died before I turned eight, but the memory of her is strong. Her soft, puffy lap held me, her plump arms circled my small body, and her kisses upon my cheek felt gentle and sweet. I never remember her scolding me or swatting my backside. She told me I was a good girl, a sweet girl, and she hugged me when she said it.

My strongest memory is sleeping in her big feather bed. When she lay down, I rolled toward her, snuggling up and sleeping soundly. She’d pat my shoulder and say, “Nitety-nite.”

I followed her to the chicken coop to gather eggs, to the orchard to find pears on the ground, and to the garden to pick tomatoes and string beans.

My other grandmother, "Mama", was entirely different. She lived in town, wore a business dress, hosiery, pumps, and worked as manager of a huge laundry in the basement of a big hotel. I visited her because my parents did, not because I looked forward to seeing her. The day never turned out to be as much fun as it did at Granny’s house, because Mama had nothing to offer in comparison. Not once did she hold me on her lap or tell me I was a good girl.

However, when the afternoon ended, Mama always led me to her bedroom. There, she opened the top drawer of her chest of drawers, and allowed me to stand on tiptoe and look in. Dozens of packages of gum--Juicy Fruit and Double-Mint Spearmint--covered the bottom. I got to choose one, and while I held it in one hand, she’d tell me to open the other. Then, she’d place a nickel in my palm. I said thank you, and that was it.

But I loved those packages of gum and that nickel. That’s how I remember her.

Over the years, I learned very well how to be a good grandmother. What memories do I have of my two grandmothers? The hugs? The undivided attention? The gifts? Everything I remember of both of mine, even though the two women differed so much, can be summed up in one phrase—unconditional love. Was I always a good girl, just because my grandmother said so? Probably not. Did I deserve all the attention because I was special? No. Was my due in life to receive gifts? Absolutely not.

Both my grandmothers made me believe I was worthwhile and important to them, by either actions or words. Not once did one of them say, “Bad girl.” Or “Shame on you.”

This grandmother business is easy after all. We have three young grandsons, all brothers, and believe me, they can be a trial. Subconsciously, though, I refrain from saying, “Look what you did!” “I told you to stop slamming the door.” “If you make a mess again, I’ll have to punish you.”
 No, instead, I say, “Come here, sugar, and let me show you how to close the door quietly.” Or, “That’s all right, baby, I’ll get some paper towels and you can help me clean up the spilled milk.”

Nothing in this world can top a little boy throwing his arms around my waist, lifting his face with his lips puckered to give me a kiss. Nothing is more precious than a small boy bringing a book I’ve already read to him fourteen times, and saying, “Grandmother, will you read this book to me?” And when I sit on the sofa, he scrunches as close as he can to snuggle while we read. My heart bursts with joy when the twelve-year-old who now is taller than I am, runs down the skyway, saying, “Grandmother!” and nearly knocks me down with his hugs.

Ah, the joys of grandparenting. We can love, spoil, and indulge, and at the end of the day, hand them back to their parents to clothe, feed, and nurture. I wouldn’t take anything for my own two children. But grandkids? They’re a special breed all together.

Celia Yeary, Author
Romance…and a little bit o' Texas


  1. I'm the early bird here, and I love this post. Your love for your family really shines through, Celia, and your grandmothers taught you a lot - how to give and receive love. When you come right down to the bottom line of life, love is all.

    Happy Grandparent's Day to you!
    Fondly, Maggie

  2. I love your post, Celia. Being a grandma is the BEST thing ever. Most of my grandkids, at least the ones who can talk (grin), call me Grandma or Grandma Penny. One calls me Gaga. I imagine that will change as her speech develops. (grin)

    One my grandmas used to give us gum - always half a stick. She wasn't a cuddly kinda grandma, though she did adopt my mom and gave her a good home. And let my mom choose who her baby brother would be.

    My other grandma was the first person (that I can remember) to give me a book, Little Women. I think I was 8 or so. Still have it. Whenever someone asked me what I wanted for birthday or Christmas I almost always said books - most people looked at me like I was weird when they heard that. This grandma always had cookies in her kitchen. Then again, she had 17 kids and tons of grandkids.

  3. MAGGIE--there is no greater gift than love. And love comes in the form of an infant placed in your arms who will call you Grandmother. Thank you, and you have a wonderful Grandparents Day, too. Celia

  4. Penny--17 kids! Good grief! It's a wonder she could still smile. However, how does the adage go..."the more you love, the more will grow?"
    I never saw a book besides a Bible in either of my grandparent's homes. This was in the 40s. There mights have been books around and I just didn't know it.
    It seems cookies and gum are the universal love tokens. Even though my grandsons are teens, pre-teens, I still make cookies for them. They can demolish 6 doz in almost one sitting.
    Thanks for the stories about your grandmothers. Celia

  5. I didn't have a grandmother growing up. My mother's mom died when she was 17, and my father's mom died when I was 5. I have a few wonderful memories of her but she was sick with cancer for most of the last year of her life.

    I watch in amazement, though, at how my parents with their grandchildren. Where did all that strictness go? LOL!

  6. Hi Celia,

    What a nice grandmother story. I related to the part about going out to feed the chickens. But it was my great uncle who used to take me with him. He put me on his back, because his chickens pecked.
    It was fun to feed them from afar.

  7. KEENA--it makes me sad that you didn't have a grandmother. That's terrible--but I wonder if you feel like you've missed out. I think we don't really miss what we know nothing about.
    I had to laugh about the strickness thing....of course, grandparents do not have it in their vocabulary!

  8. GAIL--actually, I can't stand chickens. I only went with her because I wanted to do what she wanted--I did like to carry the can with the feed, though. I've been pecked enough to know I do not like the stupid things--and they are very stupid.
    Thanks for coming by--Celia

  9. What a lovely tribute to your grandmothers. I was not very close to my grandmothers. We were taught to respect them and behave around them. I adore my grandchildren and they love visiting for extended period. At Nonna's place, we can do anything we want, but we are good, they like to repeat.

  10. Celia, what a heartwarming post. Thanks so much for sharing your memories, Sweetie.

    My father's mother, "Granny" was always a lot of fun. She and Grandpa took me places as a little girl. She taught my prayers and help me to learn to read as well as phonics and she always encouraged me to do my best. I remember her with a fond heart because while she's still alive, she's living in a nursing home and when I saw her last year, I don't know if she remembered me.
    But - what she did for me as a young girl, growing up I will always remember.

    My mother's mother, we called "Bopshe" or "Boppie" for short. Bophse, we were told was Polish for Grandmother and as a little girl I remember she was strict and mean and always threatening us with the belt. Then my parents divorced when I was 11 and my mother sent me and my sister to live with Boppie for a year and in that year I saw a whole another side to my grandmother. I saw a loving, caring, kind soul who liked to read, play cards, and knit. After spending that year with her, I grew to love her very much and I cried when she left Christine and I with our mother when we moved back to Manchester.

    Both my grandmothers really helped to shape the person I am today.

    As for me and being a grandmother? Well, I hope that's at least 15 years off, but I have two great role models to refer to.


  11. MONA--I think grandchildren inherently know "to be good," or maybe their parents repeat it to them. Our three boys--especially when younger--were always very good when we took them away from the house while visiting in MI. We'd go shopping, eat somewhere, etc.and they minded their manners--for the most part.
    At home....they'd go wild. I said once to our son--"They're always so good for us." His answer--"The know you won't talk them anywhere if they're not. They do not want to be left behind.
    Such fun...Celia

  12. Steph--I remember your talking before about your Polish grandmother. I'm glad you got to know her and live with her. They do shape our lives so much--I keep in mind that I'm "making memories" for them, so I want it to be a good as it can be.
    Thanks for sharing your sweet story--Celia

  13. Such a sweet tribute to your grandmothers.
    I am called Nani or Doc Nani ( if they have a boo boo) My great grandmother on my mothers side came from Alsace Lorraine . she spoke broken english , but boy could she make a mean pastry. She was strict but in a good way. My grandmother ( her daughter) was like her in a way but more laid back. I used to spend my summers at the farm.
    I never knew my dad's mom, she passed away when he was 16.
    I have 3 grandchildren and 1 on the way and a great granddaughter. I love them all equally and they are a joy.