This week I find myself with a different view outside the window as I write this column. Instead of the green vistas of western Tennessee, it’s a more familiar, and comforting view of the California foothills from the windows of my grandma’s ranch on the West Side. And while the vistas have changed a bit in just a year, my mind has been more focused on the memories of over 40 years that I’ve made on this ranch and with Grammie, many from the vantage point of the chair in the kitchen I’m using as I write this column.
The decision last week to fly home for an impromptu trip to help take care of Grammie and keep her company was easy to reach. That doesn’t make the realities of dealing with a loved one’s declining health and care any easier to confront or deal with. But my family, especially my sister and I, have been blessed with a lifetime of memories because our Grandma is such a special soul. One who values kindness, grace and helpfulness but most importantly a never-ending supply of love. She has been the center of our family forever.
More so than anywhere else, this ranch was my safe haven from the world because of Grandma. No matter the trouble or sadness, five minutes with Grammie would erase anything that was bothering me. How could one possibly stay upset when surrounded by enough love for 10 people, all centered on you.
Speaking from experience, it is just not possible.
The memories seem to be playing in fast forward as I look around the house and reminisce about all the crazy antics we all enjoyed through the years. From horses and gardens, baking mishaps and miracles, school projects so above and beyond the expected, and just the special moments that occurred during our day-to-day life at the ranch. Grammie was always game for an idea or activity. Rarely was a suggestion a bridge too far… stringing a badminton net across the driveway? We can do that! Grammie… can we make a fort under the dining table? Of course… but you need better walls, so here are the bed sheets, let’s use the chairs and and half the linen closet so it can be a castle!
There were baking contests with different recipes for chocolate chip cookies. Natalie was a stickler for following directions, me…. well, not so much. So Grandma was the referee, and Grandpa the taste tester… somehow he usually got the best end of these kind of deals. And if I remember right, I think he declared a tie - mostly just thrilled that there were two full batches of chocolate chip cookies to be eaten.
So many memories of Grammie are centered outside on the ranch, whether in her garden or the middle of a field. There were flowers everywhere, meant to be cut and enjoyed, or for decorating a church altar at Easter time. If we wanted to try to grow something, Grammie was always game… whether it was sugar snap peas that didn’t always make it back to the house after harvest, or peppers that she “accidentally” cross-bred because she planted so many so close together.
Grammie taught me to jump in the bean pits of the Big Bertha harvesters when we would deliver dinner to the guys running them on Friday nights. We would hop in the truck, with a pit stop at Marty’s for the box of steak sandwiches and fries we’d deliver, Natalie and I eating on the way down to Firebaugh so that we could play once we got there. Usually Grammie was worried about us, but saved the worries for when we were out of earshot and was always calmed with laughter from Grandpa.
Grammie taught me to catch lizards that would sun themselves on the back deck, bake anything including layer chocolate cake from scratch (Grandpa’s favorite), revive birds that were stunned by flying into her sparkling clean windows and sew clothes for my dolls. The first quilt I ever created was, to her, a masterpiece that got taken to the quilt shop for professional binding, and is still used on cold Tennessee evenings.
The first time I rode a tomato harvester, standing toward the end of the sorting belt, it was Grammie who taught me which tomatoes got thrown out. And if I was in my swimsuit because I had been playing in the jacuzzi before we went to take Grandpa lunch… more the better!
She encouraged the absurd, like singing Dolly Parton over the CB radio to entertain all with the unbridled exuberance only a 5-year-old can muster, laughing when Grandpa got on the radio to ask what Dolly Parton had to do with the importance of getting the crop out of the ground.
That exuberance was never discouraged, no matter the situation.
And her little girls, as Natalie and I still are, could do no wrong. Even mistakes of the epic variety were just part of learning and nothing to get upset over. That kind of love and patience is rare. And I try to keep it in mind when Samuel gets into trouble.
Washing dishes, ironing and doing household chores were never boring at Grammie’s. And she always took the time to teach if we were interested in learning something. At 3, I decided I wanted to wash the dishes, because that’s what Grandma did, so out came the step-stool so I could reach the sink, and the just-cleaned stack of dishes went back in the sink so I could do them myself. I could iron my Grandpa’s dress shirts, with his preferred stiffness to keep the pleats, by the time I was 4, and if I decided I was going to polish all of Grandpa’s boots, lining them all up against the closet doors for his inspection when he got in from the fields, out came the leather cleaner and polish rags. Rarely were we told what we couldn’t do, whether it was an idea for an over the top Halloween costume, or our future plans.
Anything went… except for snakes.
The biggest thing that Grammie taught me was to never be afraid to take risks in life. She encouraged us to chase our dreams, even when she was worried for us. She always told us that we should never miss her if chasing those dreams took us far from home and from her. Her lessons were never far from the front of my mind, and she knew us better than we knew ourselves. She gave all of us a foundation that was solid and strong, and love that would last far beyond the dreams of little girls playing dress up in her craft room.
And as I contemplate a not-too-distant future after she is gone, I am so very thankful for this week. The chance to share memories, and laugh about past craziness. To show her my sewing projects that wouldn’t be possible without all the lessons she shared so many years ago, and the idea that anything is possible, you just have to take the time to figure out how to get it accomplished. I get to tell her about the crazy garden I am planning in Tennessee, and how, after all these years, a little of that green thumb that I always admired, finally rubbed off on me.
Though Grammie will not always be with us, the blessings and love she has given everyone in her circle of family and friends throughout her 90 years will live on.