Grandma still lived in the house where she’d raised Mom, my two aunts and three uncles. Grandpa had gone to Heaven when Mom was 11, so now it was just Uncle David and Grandma alone. The two story house had white siding and black shutters and sat way back off the road. There were two sets of railroad tracks that ran alongside the road and the long gravel driveway crossed them as it wound its way to the house. There was an old windmill on one side of the driveway and on the other side lay two cellar doors. As a little girl, it reminded me of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s house in The Wizard of Oz—a classic farmhouse.
The cows, pigs and chickens were long gone; all that remained was an old mare, a German Shepherd named April, and the occasional flock of ducks that would land in the pond. On a cool spring day, I begged to go out to feed them. Before I could leave the house, Grandma tied an old scarf on my head and smiled down at me, “You have to wear your babushka so you don’t get an earache.” Grandma was always taking care of everybody else. She made me wait at the top of the rickety cellar stairs while she went down to get the stale bread. I imagined it was quite spooky down there but Grandma was so brave. After a moment, she emerged from the dark basement and we were on our way.
I played dare-devil walking across the slippery rocks that crossed the tiny feeder stream as we made our way down to the pond. When I slipped, I delighted in squishing my red galoshes in the mud. When we were close enough, we threw the pieces of bread to the greedy ducks. They quacked and splashed as they tried to reach the white flecks before the others could steal them away. As we made our way back to the house, Grandma gingerly stepped around the big stones that lined the side of the driveway and laughed, “Angel, you’re getting too big. I’m going to put that stone on your head so you don’t grow any more.”
I didn’t want to stop growing. I had only turned four that winter and I had a lot more growing to do and many more springs with Grandma. I couldn’t know nor understand that soon she wouldn’t be fighting my growth, but instead the growth of something sinister inside of her, something that would steal her from me before I turned five. It was something I would hate and fear the rest of my life: cancer.
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Don’t worry. This blog will not be all memories of my grandmother.
I tell you this story as my first because my memories of Grandma have shaped me into the woman I’ve become in so many ways. When her dad and brothers died (of, I think, tuberculosis), she went to work to help support her family. I think she was 11. It was the middle of the Great Depression. As she grew older, she did everything: working in and out of the home, being a landlord, cooking, sewing, gardening, farming, raising children, loving deeply, and praying always. I have always held her up as a primary role model for my life. But she died so young. She was only 63. She should have lived longer. Cancer should not have stolen her away so young. And so, that has made me want to learn about different causes of cancer and illness and how to try to avoid them so that I can hopefully live a long, healthy life to be there for my children and grandchildren. She was an amazing woman and I wish every day that she was still here for me to ask her questions. But she’s not, and so, I make it a point to remember as much as I can about her and from others who have come before us and weave it in with life in the 21st century. This is where I come from and what I hope to share with you.
Welcome to my blog.