By Marcia who lives in Northern Virginia with her Goldendoodle/therapist, Amber.
“I never wanted to have kids. I wanted to travel and see the world,” she told me, her voice filled with if only and what could have been. It was my first glimpse into Geneva’s identity as someone other than a mother and a grandmother.
Granny was born in rural Illinois in 1904, the eighth of eleven children. While she wanted to continue her education, she was forced to quit school after the 8th grade. A few years later, she met an older boy, Oscar, at a football game. They soon married and moved to a house on family property. It wasn’t long before their family started to grow. Granny once told me, “When they started coming out in twos, I knew I needed to stop!” My mother and her brother were twins, Nos. 9 and 10. She had one more daughter after they were born and may have continued if not for the untimely death of my Grandfather at the age of 51. During their marriage, he had been violent with Granny and the kids, especially the boys. They often had to physically restrain him when he was beating Granny. Grandpa was a heavy drinker and had to spend time in jail for a drunk driving accident. During his incarceration he was able to get sober and decided to turn his life around. Once released from jail, he found a good job in road construction and everyone was hopeful. He was killed at work shortly after starting the job.
After his death, the grief and stress took its toll on Granny’s health and she was bedridden with arthritis. The five older kids were already grown and starting their own lives but she still had six kids at home, the younger ones still quite small. My uncle Max quit school so he could go to work. He gave his paychecks to Granny to help with the bills.
Granny finally recovered and was able to get back to work. She did everything from being a caregiver to waitressing. She would have been in her 60’s by the time I have real memories of her and those memories are of visiting her at the restaurant where she worked. After the diner closed, she went to work caring for two “spinsters,” as she called them, who were younger than she was. She worked, and worked hard, into her 80’s, when her body started to fail and Alzheimer’s began to settle in.
In the midst of all the work, worry, stress and pain, Geneva was also my Granny and did Granny things. My older sister and I share a lot of the same memories of sleeping over at Granny’s house. How soft the feather bed was. The pink bedroom. Granny scrubbing us in the bathtub then wrapping us in towels warmed by the heater. The bacon, egg, and grape jelly sandwiches on Roman Meal bread. She was a smoking, drinking and cussing woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She only put in her false teeth when she was going somewhere. She would brag on her children to anyone who would listen and loved visiting their homes across the country. She covered for me when I was in high school and stayed out all night at a college party. She constantly stole silverware and coffee creamer pots from restaurants. She gave us love and safety we felt when we needed it the most. She was our safe port in a storm when our mother was unable or unwilling to care for us.
Granny stayed in her tiny home until it was no longer safe for her to be there alone. After several years in a care facility, the strongest woman I’ve ever known finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s. I’m still angry about that; if anyone deserved to live a peaceful, healthy life until the end, it was Granny.
Granny’s travel bug was passed on to me and I grew up with grand visions of escaping my small town to explore the world. But like Granny, I had to put those dreams on hold to raise a family. In 2016, I finally went on my first “grown up” trip to Scotland. Granny would have loved it, especially the trips to the whisky distilleries. Whether I was looking over the water at Loch Lomond or at the castle in Edinburgh, I hope Granny was looking through my eyes at all of the beauty.
The checks Uncle Max gave to Granny were put into an account and the money was given back to him at his wedding so he and his wife could buy a house. She never used a penny of it.
Granny comes to me in my dreams quite often. I can smell the bacon frying in her kitchen. She’s there with her beautiful white hair, Native American cheekbones and a lot of sass. Her visits are more frequent when I’m feeling down and defeated but when I wake I have a renewed spirit. There’s no other woman who could inspire me more than Granny. Now if I could only figure out how to replicate the bacon, egg and grape jelly sandwich… no matter what I do I can’t get it to taste the same.