My memories of childhood are very unclear. I can't say for sure if I didn't know my grandmother's name for quite some time or if I just submerged it because I didn't like it. How do you tell your grandmother you don't like her name? Later, I came to realize you don't choose your own name in most cases, so she really had no control. Besides, I think she liked it. Regardless, to me she was always Grandma.
I spent two weeks of every summer in her house, for as far back as I can remember. Mostly, I think I looked forward to those times -- an adventure, because I never knew for sure what was in store. There were times I distinctly remember I didn't want to go, but once I got there, it was fine. (Especially those times when I reconnected with friends my own age in that area.)
My grandmother introduced me to the local Grange, and a similar group for women. When I joined Toastmasters in 2001, I already knew who they were and what they were about; perhaps it was my grandmother who introduced me to them. I remember her as a good speaker, and remember attending at least one function where she stood and spoke to a large group. She taught me about cleaning house (not that I kept that knowledge very long) and snuck in snippets of right and wrong. (And yes, I did get those things at home, too, but who believes their parents?)
She was an energetic woman with firm convictions. I always thought of her as physically old (she was much older than my parents and they were "ancient" in my young eyes) but never truly "old" in the slow, run-down sense of the word. She stood up for her beliefs and she went against popular opinion when she thought it was wrong.
She would go to great lengths to bond with me, although I didn't recognize that then for what it was. For instance, I had a fondness (unusual in a girl, I think) for reptiles, insects, pond life, and spiders. One summer, while helping her clean her basement, I found the greatest spider in the whole world. It was big, bigger than any I'd seen, and very beautiful. Trouble was, it was in hiding down there. Had a nice home in a pipe in the wall and whenever I'd try to get a look, whoosh! back in the pipe it'd go.
I was so disappointed I couldn't see this beauty closer, or shine a light on it to see it more clearly. Grandma to the rescue! She helped me think of ways to coax that spider out of its hole. Did we know it was a black widow? Of course we did. Did it matter? Of course! That was why I wanted to see the spider closer. However, nothing we tried seemed to work. Then Grandma got the idea of all ideas . . . and brought the vacuum cleaner down there. It was a small model, with only a hose attachment. She sucked that spider right out of its pipe.
Taking the vacuum up to the daylight and emptying out the bag, we found that the spider was quite dead. It's the thought that counts?
All these years, I've never forgotten my grandmother's efforts on my behalf that day. As I grew older, I realized what a wonder it really was, because I found she didn't like spiders.
I remember she stocked fish in her rock pond fountain every summer. I don't recall what kind they were, but I know she did it just for me; in the winter that pond was dry. I remember she and I sharing an attic bedroom and how she'd fall asleep while reading. In a bit, she'd wake up enough to tuck her bookmark in, put the book down and turn out her light. I remember being scared to sleep in that room alone because of the eerie door leading to the rest of the attic, where it was dusty and dim. Anything could come out of that door if she wasn't there to protect me!
I remember being allowed to do things I couldn't do at home, like stay up that little bit later.
She almost always had a little dog, too; a Min Pin (Miniature Pinscher, like a tiny Doberman) or Miniature Poodle, usually. I think even in her RV years she had a dog to travel with. Sometimes a boyfriend, too. She stopped by our house several times. Once, she collected all our walnuts. A few months later we received walnut-chocolate bars in the mail. They had melted into one large bar after sitting in our mailbox all day in 90 degree heat.
She was someone who was always there throughout my life, a solid rock on my shoreline, even though after I grew up I didn't see her every year or even very often. I always knew she was out there, somewhere.
Early Sunday morning, Grandma died. I'm told she went quietly, with relatives in attendance: a son, my dad, telling her it was okay for her to go, and a grandson with his fiancee. She was 93.
The walnuts will be falling soon. I'll miss you, Grandma.
Copyright 2013 Michelle Hakala