I left the farm Wednesday night with a ring on my finger, a locket dangling from my neck and a small plastic bag containing yellowed news clippings and a partially-completed book I’d given to Grandma Elizabeth more than a dozen years ago to “tell me her memories.”
I laughed at the calendar entry on Jan. 24 where, when asked to share the naughtiest thing she’d ever done, Gram wrote, “Too many to remember.”
Then the tears came when, on the back of a Farm Bleat blog, Gram noted that she needed to buy a birthday card for her oldest and only daughter, my mom, and then, in shaky handwriting, “Ask Lorna what date she has birthday? June 19th, I think.” (She had the date right, by the way.)
Gram will be 97 in August, but year 96 has been one of challenges so great, I fear it has crushed the spirit of this loving matriarch — this hardworking, strong-willed daughter of German immigrants.
Nearly eight weeks ago, Gram fell and broke her hip. A woman who had never had a broken bone in her life was suddenly thrust into a new way of living. Gram, the one who helped me weigh lambs in an old wash tub so I could get my 4-H and FFA records completed in high school, was now the helpless one.
During those mid-March days in a downtown Minneapolis hospital, Gram alternated between sleep and wondering where she was.
“Julie, this isn’t my bed,” she’d say. “Julie, this doesn’t look like my room.”
She’d been through so much, and with a steady stream of pain killers her confusion was understandable. Her short-term memory has been a concern in recent years. And yet, I struggle to accept it.
This was the same woman who returned to her ancestral homeland in Germany in her 60s to finally meet the cousins she had corresponded with for years; the same woman who could read, speak and write in German, and yet, had just an eighth grade education. (In the hospital, she told me how her own Grandma would scold her for speaking English at home.)
Back to the memory book, on April 3. The question: “What did you want to be when you grew up?”
Gram’s answer: “A teacher or a nurse, which I was to my children.”
Not just to her children, I thought, as my tears flowed once more.
In April 1978, Gram and Gramps stayed with us four kids for a while when my dad was in the hospital. I had the chicken pox and Gram took care of me. I can still see her hanging clothes on the line and telling me not to come outside. A typical kid with an inherited, strong-willed German temperament, I taunted her rules by dangling from the screen door. I’d push myself outdoors to inhale the fresh spring air, yet not touch my feet on the ground. In my mind, I wasn’t technically outside unless my feet hit the pavement. Gram still remembers those days and can smile about them now. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t smiling with me at the time.
In January 1994, Gram traveled with me to Spearfish, S.D., for my first interview in search of a “real job” in journalism. My folks didn’t want me traveling that far alone, and Gram had never seen the Black Hills. We made a few days out of the excursion in that pre-Garmin era, with Gram reading the map and me driving her to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and through the Badlands. Naturally, we had to stop at Wall Drug. It was our only vacation together, just grandmother and granddaughter.
There are so many more memories I could share about Grandma Elizabeth — and my Grandma Hattie, too. She left us 22 years ago last month.
A few weeks ago, my folks and my mom’s siblings cleared out Gram’s apartment in an assisted living facility. She’s now settled in the nursing home, getting used to new surroundings as her kids sift through the objects that made her house a home. Photographs, jewelry boxes, quilts, knick-knacks and furniture have been dispersed.
As I fingered through the necklaces, brooches, earrings and rings Mom brought back to the farm, I picked out two pieces. The locket, silver in color with an engraved “E” on the front, will join the gold-colored locket that came from Grandma Hattie’s collection, engraved on the back with, “For your loving care.” The ring, a piece I don’t recall seeing Gram ever wear, will serve as a reminder that despite our differences in appearance — she the petite woman and me, far from it — we have the same size ring finger.
I haven’t been able to visit Gram since she was released from the hospital, but that will change on Sunday when the family gathers to celebrate Mother’s Day in Kandiyohi County.
I cherish each day I have with her, and if nothing else, I hope this blog encourages you to remember your matriarch this day and every day. There are no guarantees in life, but thank God for the memories of moms.