Although everyone is looking toward spring, I had to reflect once more on winter memories of home. During the winter, I especially enjoyed visiting Papa and Grandma. Their home always cozy and inviting, as their love for one another, seemed to make the deep blankets of snow just beyond the long, lace drapes, out of reach.
Grandma and I would settle around the kitchen table as Papa heated the water, before pouring our cups full and joining us. Papa would also dole out oatmeal cookies, as Grandma had diabetes and he was more watchful of her diet than she, while the tea was steeping. He would slowly stir the tea as it cooled, in the same gentle, relaxed manner he approached everything in life – one could not help but feel in his company that time had no measure.
No matter the hustle and bustle of the world, Papa’s presence was soothing with his soft spoken words that were never rushed, the twinkle in his eyes when he spoke or simply smiled at you, and calm mannerisms as when he would gently cross his arms or even the way he rubbed his swollen, slightly bent fingers together, to rid of cookie crumbs.
The three of us would share our events of work, errands, and visits we had with family and/or friends since our last visit the week before. When everything was covered that we could think of, the conversation often turned to the retelling of memories surrounding the grocery store they owned and operated for 30 years as well as various family events.
It didn’t matter how many times I may have heard the stories. I loved nothing more than to hear them recount them, like cherished passages one dog ears, to savor again and again.
My grandparents met when Papa came to work at her father’s grocery store. They married in 1939 and in the spring of 1940, they welcomed twin boys.
Papa and Grandma worked together from the late 1930s until America’s involvement in World War II. It was then that Papa discovered he had a heart murmur, due to rheumatic fever, and deemed not fit to serve in the military. During the war, they moved to Winona, Minnesota. He worked for his brother-in-law, who owned his own business.
When they did return to Iowa, Papa took a job selling socks at a local clothing store, Gildner’s, as he was not able to do strenuous work for a period of time. It was something as Grandma would reflect and they were happy with that for the time being. In 1950 – 1985, they took over ownership and operation of her father’s grocery store. It was work that served them well over the years and added to the many stories they collected. When they retired, their days were simply more peaceful and content than before. They had one another, they didn’t need much more.
Once we were finished with our chat, Papa would either remain in the kitchen and continue reading one of his beloved Zane Gray novels or would retire to his recliner to snooze. ( It was always a bit of a gamble to visit Papa and Grandma in the afternoon, as understandably, with full stomachs and the newspaper read earlier in the day, a nap was nearly inevitable. Even if they did nap, I wasn’t bothered by it, I would either bring a book with me or read one of Grandma’s Good Housekeeping magazines).
Meanwhile, Grandma and I would take a seat in the dining room, filled with two curio cabinets filled with antiques belonging to her mother and herself, of figurines, china, and other knickknacks collected over a lifetime or 2. The expanded dining room table covered first with a vintage sage green and white tablecloth and then a layer of stack upon stacks of pictures and scrapbook clippings spanning a century.
(It was always a bit of a gamble to visit Papa and Grandma in the afternoon, as understandably, with full stomachs and the newspaper read earlier in the day, a nap was nearly inevitable. Even if they did nap, I wasn’t bothered by it, I would either bring a book with me or read one of Grandma’s Good Housekeeping magazines).
What an amazing thing to have spread before you, a time capsule in photographs, school, and church programs, report cards, greeting cards, and other scraps. It was a virtual treasure trove I enjoyed sifting through, alongside Grandma, feeling my own deep connection to the face and events of the photographs despite the fact that 60 years preceded me.
While some photos were of Papa’s family, the side of the family that had so many witty, wonderful people I was fortunate to be able to meet and know (Papa was one of five surviving children) Grandma was an only child, having been adopted at around 6 months old. Her family photos, with faces I didn’t have the fortune of knowing or having only met briefly a time or two when I was quite young, I felt I knew most all of them intimately, as Grandma was able to recount in detail, what her childhood and young adulthood was like.
Her ability to tell the story of her life, one picture, one memory at a time, took me by the hand and placed me alongside her. I felt as if I were watching the events she told, like a movie unfolding from her heart 2 my imagination, until we met in the context of the shared space. Grandma had a remarkable memory with attention to details, so as I could pick up a picture of a pretty young lady dressed in a high-collared, dark top with ruffles, her hair perfectly pinned in an “updo,” andI knew it was her good friend, Elise, from the stories she told me.
Elise lived across the street from Grandma and her parents along with her widower father and younger sister. Elise was in her early 20s and Grandma was just a young girl, but Grandma always said Elise was her best friend.
Elise used to make Grandma an angel food cake each year for her birthday, even after Elsie and her family moved to California, Elise saw to it to bake her an angel food cake and shipped it to Grandma. She had also given Grandma a shaving cream cup, decorated with pink Victorian roses with “FATHER” written in script across it. It was interesting to hold a memento that Elise once held and had given to Grandma as a young girl. Between stories of Grandma visiting Elise and her family, the pictures, there was the cup as if Elise was reaching out through time.
Suffice it to say that all the words my grandma spoke to me and those people who meant the world to her, including her friend, Elise, hold great meaning for me. Long ago I realized the significance of appreciating my elders for the life they lived before I knew them and the time I was privileged to live alongside them.
As one ages, it doesn’t mean their life loses its significance nor memories negated. There are many great treasures to be had when you take the time to sit down + truly get to know those who came before you. Now I sift through her photos and clippings feeling more connected to her and Papa than ever before. They live on in my heart, and in their stories, that have become woven with my own.
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