I was born with six grandmothers still living, although memories of the two great-grandmothers are scattered images etched on my mind, grandma Davis as an ancient old woman confined to a hospital bed and grandma Blackburn from the knees down, heavy stockings under long skirts and orthopedic shoes. With her, other senses recorded the memories. Her home smelled like love, peace, and fresh baked pies.
We were blessed with extra grandmas because our parents both came from homes “broken” in the 1940s and each grandparent had remarried long before I was born. Grandfathers chose second wives who were different than their first wives, so the sharp contrasts between grandmothers was obvious, even to a small child.
For example, both paternal grandmothers played piano, but they sure did not sound the same. One was an accomplished classical pianist hitting every perfect note of some Bach or whatever composition and the other played honky-tonk with such energy, the whole house shook. The classical pianist gave up her job as a writer of the woman’s page in the “Farm & Dairy” weekly newspaper to fully embrace the role of homemaker after marriage, although she continued to write poetry and had several books locally published. The other worked in the shops during WWII, tended bar, took in stray people, and ran the Igloo, a restaurant set up by the Youngstown mob as a front for a gambling establishment near Salem, Ohio,until it was raided and closed in the late 1960s.
As for my maternal grandmothers, one was a refined, soft spoken southern lady with a gentle spirit and a warm smile, the other was a “steel magnolia” kind of woman who took her secrets to the grave.
As different as they all were, the advice each gave young women were surprisingly simular: hold your head up and go on, never hang your head over something a man has done, sometimes you just have to step out of your underwear and go on, never hide money in your bra as that is the first place a man will look… okay, not all advice followed the same theme.
Each of these four women – grandmas Ruth, Goldie, Evelyn, and Junie Belle – seasoned our lives, each with their own unique blend of spices.
Some I knew better than others, partly because of geography, and partly because of time. Grandma Goldie died when I was… oh, 13 or 14, but there are times when I walk into my home and it smells like hers. As an adult, I felt closest to grandma Ruth because we talked often and understood each other. Her laughter is etched in my audio memories so just out of the blue sometimes, I hear her laugh. She was the steel magnolia.
Happy Mother’s Day!