My Gram

A photo of a couple from the 1940s
My grandmother Lulubelle and grandfather Ralph
Just today, I came across photos of my grandmother and grandfather (my dad’s parents) and it made me stop what I was doing (canvasing my boys' rooms for errant laundry) and sit down (on the floor), forgetting the world around me. 

The photos were probably from the 1940s. You’d think as a vintage clothing seller, I would be able to tell instantly what year it was, but I wasn’t sure. There was no date on the photos, nor the location, but if I had to guess, I’d say the photo was taken in the mid ‘40s

My grandmother was a beauty and I miss her. Seeing her instantly made me think about the first time she met my firstborn. I wasn’t sure if she knew she was holding her first great-grandson. But I wanted to believe that she did.

“Look,” I said, “He loves being with you, Gram.” 

My son was only a few months old, and he was the first great-grandchild of the family. The two of them meeting was a momentous occasion.

She stroked my son’s soft skin, comforting him with the occasional “Oh,” as he whimpered, while she held him in her lap. Gram seemed completely normal; as if she could say to me, “He’s just beautiful, honey.”

But she said nothing because she couldn’t.

Gram loved caring for anyone who needed it. Serving was her gift. But after the stroke, she wasn’t the same. I’m sure it was torture not being able to hold and kiss my baby the way she could’ve done it just a year ago when the ravages of a stroke hadn’t yet happened.

I wondered if she despised everything that came with the change. Did she yearn to tell us to stop fussing over her? Because overnight, things were suddenly all so different. Nothing was the same anymore. Not for us.

And definitely not for her.

She couldn’t move one entire side of her body, she couldn’t form words anymore, and she was no longer the grandma I had grown up with. And yet, she looked the same. I could see that she was the same strong woman I’d always known.

I wondered what she thought about on the days we didn’t see her. Was she lonely?

The nursing home was incessantly busy but I wondered if the constant noise bothered her. Did she ever want to turn off her neighbor’s television? It was loud enough for neighbors three doors down to hear.

Gram had a window to look through, but I wondered if it was enough to assuage her gardening longings. The flowering tree was beautiful and I hoped it sufficed now that she no longer had her yard to tend to. But, did it only serve to remind her how much she was missing in the world she once traversed?

I’m sure she had to think about her old home; the one with the garden she and Grandpa tended to for nearly twenty years. She had to dream about picking the zucchini, tomatoes, squash, and beans. Every summer the harvest was full and overflowing. She loved her garden. But she loved giving it away even more. 

My sisters and I would help her pick cherries from her cherry tree, water her plants, and feed her cat even when she didn’t need our assistance. She and grandpa let us "help" when surely, they had it all under control.

I wondered if she remembered all the breakfasts she cooked for us grandkids. The days we’d spend at her house playing hide and seek, pretend store, and board games. 

And what about us playing her marimba, the organ, the piano - all the instruments she and Grandpa had in their home? Could she still hear our disjointed melodies?

In all honesty, that was probably something she didn’t want to think about. The cacophony was intense.

I wondered if she thought about us helping her set the table for meals and watching her cook? Did she think about her son and daughter? The old days of raising them in Iowa?

She and Grandpa lived a slow life back when it wasn't a thing to aspire to. It was all they knew. And their slow living not only made them happy but it made everyone else around them happy.

Maybe that's why I desire the slow-living lifestyle so much. It takes me back to my grandparents... as if I'm living an extension of what they used to be and do.

I wondered what she would say if the stroke hadn’t taken her voice or where she would go if the stroke hadn’t atrophied her legs and arms. Did she think about her old days as a missionary, going by boat or plane worldwide and embarking on trips to Liberia or Indonesia? 

Though she must have had a lot of memories floating in and out of her mind, the way we floated in and out of her assisted-care room, I wished she could have known that I think of her now more than ever before.

My oldest son will never recall her. Only the things I tell him about her. My second son never had the chance to meet her. 

But it doesn’t matter. I have stories of her love locked in my heart; I have memories of her care etched in my soul. And the prayers she prayed for me resound strongly with the peace present in my life today. 

Gram lived a life separated from herself; one that was more in tune with painting the interior of her church -- when she was seventy-five years old -- than getting her hair done or going out to lunch. Her heart was dedicated to me as a granddaughter, and all of her family. It was also completely devoted to God.

I don’t know if Gram cares about any of that anymore. Being in the presence of God sort of puts things into a different perspective.

But her legacy surrounds me. The blessings she bestowed on all of us as the family matriarch were unprecedented and something I can only hope to aspire to when I become a grandmother one day.  

Thank you, Gram. For all of it.


  1. Yes - she definitely knew who she held. As we ‘talked” about it later she would nod her head affirming who her great grandchild was.


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