I did nothing to earn it. Her love and acceptance greeted me at the door of her home and made its home in my heart.
It was a long time ago – like a friend says “about a hundred years ago…”. My boyfriend and I had driven about three hours to visit his grandparents. I’d been nervous months before to meet his parents, but I seem to remember I was even more nervous to meet his grandparents. His grandmother’s warm demeanor soon quickly soothed my nerves. She radiated warmth.
We talked – at first pleasantries, then more meaningful conversations. We ate delicious food she prepared. We played games. She liked a card game she fondly called “Oh Hell” with a rather embarrassed and naughty look in her eyes. And when we had worn out the deck of cards, we spent the night there. I slept in what seemed like a rose garden – a room right out of a magazine with antique dressers painted white and adorned with dainty white and pink decorations. The bedspread was white chenille, soft and comfortable. And there were pink roses everywhere. Little ones and big ones arranged on the sheets and pillowcases and peppered on the wallpaper. It was a room befitting a grandma’s house and I felt like a grown-up little girl there – like I had stayed there now and then all through my growing up years….like *I* was the grandchild, not the visiting girlfriend.
The next morning, I experienced my first Cream of Wheat at her dining room table. The good company helped me ignore the texture as it went from the bowl to my stomach in tiny spoonfuls. I wasn’t eager to say goodbye that day. But it would be the first of many visits that grew my love of her. She didn’t leave room to feel anything else for her but love.
Grandpa was there too. He had a favorite seat in the living room.
And always present with them was Grandma’s only sister, Genevieve. They all called her Aunt Gen. She was a thicker and less graceful version of Grandma, and an extension of Grandma’s love. Aunt Gen was a school teacher who never married so she spent a lot of time with Eleanor. Eleanor and Genevieve lost their mother while they were still girls, and they were likely cemented together during that time out of a necessity to share required grief. Aunt Gen lived far enough away to have her own life, but close enough to visit often. She was always there when you visited. She always sent birthday cards. Aunt Gen and Grandpa shared a love for Eleanor. Good spirited banter of cutting words between Aunt Gen and Grandpa was expected. They had their own little comedy routines laced with love and irritation. Being with them both at a card table or in the car would surely leave a smirk on your face, but it went without saying that even stifled chuckling from anyone younger may seem disrespectful. It sure makes for good stories and unrestrained laughter years later though. And we knew that there was enough love to overlook each others shortcomings.
I loved Grandma back. More and more through the years. When we named our first son after his grandpa who died when he was 35, she said it felt like part of her son had been given back to her. A couple of years later, she and I and that great-grandson took a trip down to see her childhood home. We gave our respects at the cemetery where her parents rest and went inside the chapel where her Mom played organ and she showed us where her Mom had taught school. She told stories about her growing up years. We all stayed at my mother’s house that night. We played Tiddly Winks together. In our years as friends, we celebrated holidays together, talked on the phone and sent greetings on cards for special occasions and just because, with x’s and o’s scattered on paper and her favorite expression “I love you heaps and heaps”. She handed down family pictures and we went through them together recording names and places on them. My kids called her Grandma Ellie. She grew even dearer to me.
Below is a picture showing Genevieve and Eleanor as girls, Aunt Gen before it and Eleanor after.
When one of her grandsons left his wife and daughters, she felt pain and responsibility in his place, but could not fix what he had broken. She never held back the negative things she thought, but she framed her words in love. I discovered through the years that she told the wives of each grandson that her husband was her favorite. Remembering being told that little secret myself made me chuckle. Grandma didn’t count on the other wives divulging such private and precious news, but I only loved her more for wanting us each to feel special.
When Grandpa died, I felt her sadness and pain. When she decided to move from her beautiful home to an apartment, I mourned for her. I needed to be there to help her. I flew from California to Wisconsin with my then 15-month old first son who spent a few days being babysat by a friend of relatives, and livened our nights with toddler talk and playful songs and healing hugs. I packed dishes and did whatever I was asked or told to do. I borrowed my Dad’s truck to help her move. I was there when she was saying goodbye to her possessions and my husband and I were gifted with pieces of furniture we have moved across the miles many times and still cherish. We went to visit as much as we could. For awhile, we lived a mere three hours from her and we would bring her to our home when we could. Aunt Gen needed to move from her apartment to nursing care. Grandma and I visited places in the area and chose the best we found for Aunt Gen. When Grandma needed nursing care, she joined Aunt Gen at the same place and the sisters once again were together. Sure, it was nice Grandma and Aunt Gen were together, but I hated it that they were there. The Army would soon be sending us across the ocean, or I would have fought to have Grandma come live with us.
Aunt Gen had complications from diabetes and died, leaving Grandma at the nursing home alone. I was lonely for her. We were living in Texas, a long way from Grandma. Visits were quick and rushed. No more stories. No more loving hugs. No more letters with x’s and o’s. But the love?…the love remained warm in my heart.
Grandma died. We couldn’t get to the funeral. I cried that we weren’t there. I cried that she wasn’t here. But oh, I smiled for God for she was with Him.
She’d be happy that I put her pictures on the computer and shared them with other family. She’d smile past her ears to see and know our kids today. She’d love seeing her furniture and heirlooms in our home.
Grandma’s life is etched deeper in my heart than the memories of my own grandmas. Our hearts were connected by the people we loved and by our love for each other. Her absence still leaves a hole in my heart. She might be the first one I look for on the other side. As my sons get older and are dating, I think even more about the kind of mother-in-law I will be. I hope the girls they bring home will feel like I did when I was welcomed into Grandma’s heart the minute I walked through her door.