Grandmother Stories

This page will be devoted to stories about grandmothers. If you have a story about your grandmother, send it to us - gay@grandmotherpark.org   Pictures encouraged!

A Grandma's Tale

Every summer that I can remember in my childhood, my mother and I took the train from Chicago to Montgomery, Alabama. Once there, either my uncle Bubba or my cousin Bill met us at the station and drove us to Fort Davis. The town, as I knew it from the back seat of the car, consisted of cotton fields and more cotton fields surrounding wooden plank houses built up off the ground and topped with corrugated tin roofs.

Mama Senie, my grandmother and Mama Niece, her sister, both known to each other as Sister, smothered us with hugs and kisses once we (finally!) arrived. Her apron pockets always held a treat for me. Sometimes the treat was a pecan from the tree in the yard or a candied orange slice wrapped in a napkin. My grandmother would then gently pinch my arm to see “if I had grown any.” In her eighties, Mama Senie had begun to notice “a curtain closing over my eyes, thin and gauzy against the sunlight. Gradually the sunlight faded, as on toward evening, and then the lights went out completely.” By the time I knew her, she was completely blind. Her younger sister moved seamlessly and efficiently into the caretaker role for her sibling. Mama Niece was a no- nonsense, no frills kind of woman who smoked cigarettes that she rolled from a red can of Prince Albert tobacco. In time, Mama Senie discovered that she could feel colors. Red, she described as heat. Certain hues of yellow and green made her fingertips tingle. Pink she knew because a feeling of sadness passed through her. She continued to sew quilts for those she loved, the stitches running diagonally and unevenly along the fabric. She avoided pink.

Because everyone helped, I had two main jobs: feeding the chickens and taking my blind grandmother to the outhouse. It was a tossup which I hated more -- feeding the chickens who pecked at my toes and chased me if I didn’t feed them fast enough, or taking Mama Senie to the outhouse and waiting outside until she completed her morning routine. Early in life, I developed an aversion to the smell of the outhouse and was also convinced that there were snakes lurking about. I complained bitterly about both assigned jobs. One morning, I simply refused outhouse duty.

“You don’t want to help your poor old grandmother?”
I shook my head, knowing she couldn’t see.
“Alright, then. You don’t have to take me. I‘ll do it myself. Hand me my stick.”

I gave her the long walking stick she used to make her way around the yard. She walked into the fence, then into the other fence, then into the side of the house as she moved further away from the outhouse. Finally, overcome by guilt, I took her arm and led her to the outhouse door. She went in, conducted her business and came out singing “Swing low, sheet Chariot, comin’ for to carry me home. “ I wasn’t happy, but I knew I had helped her and that made me feel good.

I was well into my fifties when I reflected on this experience and thought: we were in Alabama at most two weeks out of the year. What did Mama Senie do for the other fifty weeks of the year? The obvious answer was that she took herself to the outhouse. Of course she knew her way. Her lesson to me, albeit never verbalized, was so deeply embedded that it took me forty years to isolate: you have a responsibility to help others, especially your family and those who cannot help themselves.

Mary Adams Trujillo
Evanston, IL

BubbeBubbe

Grandma Anna, or “Bubbe,” and I shared a room until I was seven years old.  She spoke almost no English, and my bedtime stories would be her teaching me Yiddish words, or her singing songs from her own childhood in Poland, or protecting me with the superstitions of her village—saying “puh-puh” if someone called me pretty to scare away jealous evil spirits, or warming cloths on the radiator in our room to place on my feet (“cold feet, hot head,”) to prevent illness.

I was secure in the fact that I was her favorite grandchild—she had eight of them—because I was the youngest and the most attached to her given our proximity. I also had the most patience, belief, and trust in the old country ways not realizing that “being American” was the important goal.  Despite her grief when my mother, her daughter, died after a long illness when I was five, she managed to care for me, stand in on parents’ days at school, cook dinners, and protect me from neighborhood bullies (screaming at them in Yiddish, which did indeed make them afraid). Sometimes it was my turn to make her smile when the grief got too much, striking poses or funny faces, which I knew would get her to laugh, to ease the pain for a while, or stand with her against my older, more sophisticated sisters.

As a grandmother myself now, I think back realizing how she must have felt her own loss and her knowledge of what I was missing from her much adored daughter. I think about the courage she had to have had to make the journey in steerage, live an immigrant’s life, filled with foreign language, food, and neighbors, and little money.  I wish I knew all the stories she could have told me, if there had been time.  When my father remarried, Bubbe went to live with my uncle too many miles away for our intense connection to survive, and she died soon afterwards.

But her love—that unconditional kind we all long for—I can bring it back when I need it for courage, or my sense of self, or my heart, and I am forever grateful.

Sunny Fischer, Executive Director
Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
Chicago, IL