Friday, September 27, 2013

Mean Grandma

I loved my father's mother. Much of the time I did not like her very much. She was a mean-spirited woman who's biggest joy in life seemed to be talking bad about someone, anyone, everyone else.

I do understand that she had a rough time of things. I don't think her marriage was a happy one. My grandfather drank from what I've been told. I did not know him. I have a feeling he probably was physically violent too but I do not know that.

Grandma had 11 children. Two died at birth or as babies. The Depression was a hard time for families in this country when her children were young.

One uncle had epilepsy. Back then it had such a stigma and there was little that could be medically done. He was put in a home and everyone was told that he was in a reform school. It was better to have a bad boy than an epileptic. He died there. I don't know if he knew whether anybody cared about him or not. It was way before my time.

Grandma was either the first baby in her family born in the United States or the last one born in Denmark. I can never remember which. She tried to teach me a little Danish but I only remember the word for hen.

Perhaps because she had so little when she was younger my grandmother was a collector. She had hundreds of sets of salt and pepper shakers on display in her house.

It was a small two-story house. Half of the upstairs was finished into an extra bedroom. The other half was for storage. And boy did she store a lot.

She lived in a little bitty town. The department store there actually was just a mail order hook-up. They displayed all the various mail order catalogs of the time. Grandma ordered sets of dishes, pots and pans, linens, and who knows what all. When the boxes came in she would promptly have them put upstairs. Most were never opened.

She was like that. She had things just to have them. It is such a shame they were never used. My aunt asked me what I would like as a wedding gift and I told her something of my grandmothers. I received a set of beautifully embroidered sheets. Sadly my husband went to plump his pillow and his hand went right through the material.

She did like working with cloth. She embroidered and did needlepoint. She also made the loveliest silky covers for her throw pillows.

Grandma would buy bananas and let them sit and rot rather than eat them. Heaven forbid if one of us was hungry. Whatever it was we asked for she was saving it.

My aunt had a scar on her hand. It seems that grandma was peeling potatoes for supper and my aunt asked for a piece for a snack. As she asked she reached to take a piece, grandma whacked her hand with the knife. It was a nasty cut. Grandma was stingy.

I remember once when we were visiting her she made oatmeal for breakfast. I love oatmeal. When we started to eat it we found all these tiny nails in it. Apparently she bumped the box of nails as she was making the oatmeal and it fell into the pan. Instead of throwing it out she expected us to eat around the nails.

Another time she made oatmeal again. When she served it to us we saw "things" floating in it and wiggling. She had mealy worms and saw no sense in letting the food go to waste.

She was not very nice to my mother either and that is something a child cannot forgive. She always made it clear that Mom was not a part of the family. More on that another time.

I did love her though. When I was in second grade we were working with modelling clay. I made the bust of a woman. When I finished it looked like Grandma. We went to visit her over the Christmas holidays and I took my little grandma to show her. She actually liked it and asked if she could keep it. Being an honest child I said she could as long as everyone understood that I got it back when she died.

All the rest of her life she kept it on the table by her bed. Sadly when she died it disappeared. I never saw it again.

None of my children knew Grandma. She died shortly before I married. When they were small we would look through family pictures and every time one of the kids would ask who that mean looking woman was.

I do miss Grandma. Maybe I could have known more about my father's side of the family if I had been able to ask her about it. Maybe I could have understood her better.


  1. You do have to wonder what makes a person want to "save" everything. I also have known women like that. It has to be something from their childhood, this sense that they are saving the best for a later time...
    I wonder if you might ever see the art that you made as a child, look out for it and let us know!

    1. Many members of my father's family had the same selfishness my grandmother had. Immediately after her funeral one of my uncles completely cleaned out her house and took everything that was there. He knew what that little "Grandma" meant to me but he claimed to have not seen it. Daddy went looking for it thinking maybe it had been dropped or discarded but he found no trace. It was not worth anything to anyone but me so I am sure it was just thrown away. I have asked the oldest cousin from that family for a copy of a picture of my grandfather because she was given all of Grandma's pictures. I do not even know what he looked like. She ignores my requests so I finally stopped. But my little "Grandma" was the only artwork I ever did that looked even halfway good.

  2. Nothing wrong with plenty of iron in your oatmeal. :)

  3. Nothing wrong with plenty of iron in your oatmeal. :)

    1. Next you will try to tell me about all the protein in those mealy worms.

  4. It's possible that many of us have relatives still living who were also around during hard times and the depression years. In that regard, my mother is somewhat like your grandmother in saving things, although she would never deny anyone food or expect them to eat anything with nails or mealy worms. Your grandmother sounds like she was also unhappy a lot of the time and that is very sad because it's clear you loved her despite her oddities.

    1. What was the saddest thing is how much my father loved her. He always had an explanation for her actions. We found a photo he had sent her while he was in the navy just before he shipped out. On the back he wrote "To the best mother in the world". Yes she was unhappy and often made those around her unhappy too. But at the same time we did love her. She was Grandma.