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