Grandma was the happy one

It's been about nine months since my grandma passed away. She was the last of my grandparents to go, and at 89 years old, she certainly lived the longest. Starting this new blog of mine, I'm not exactly sure why she's at the front of my mind, but I feel like it would be germane to share a few words about her.

Gramma (this is the way our family likes to spell it) wasn't the type of person to stand out. She wasn't a go-getter, a world changer, a trailblazer . . . in fact, she rarely left home if she didn't have to. She didn't even get a driver's license until she was in her 40s.

Neither of my grandmas did. No wonder I was reluctant to drive.

What she did was raise five children, keep a farmhouse with a vegetable garden the size of a football field, sew quilts to donate to her local church, and stock Extra peppermint gum for the grandkids.

Why is it we remember these odd little details? You'd think we never had gum.

It strikes me now how much joy we derived from those minutiae. At the time, we probably didn't realize just how memorable those things at Gramma's house would be:

  • making houses out of rocks from the pasture

  • digging holes in the yard for our croquet balls

  • playing with old pots and pans from the junk pile

  • the steel fold-away stool in the kitchen reserved for the smallest grandchild

  • the ice cream pail of ancient crayons that smelled like armpits

  • dodging cow pies as we trekked out to the water hole

  • the scents of iron in the tap water and gold Dial soap

  • an ungainly vinyl baby doll named Spike

  • bowls of Cass-Clay vanilla ice cream with real Hershey's syrup at bedtime

Although she wasn't an entertainer, Gramma shared with us the things she found enjoyable—the simple things in life. You see, she was born at the start of the Great Depression, a time in history when little girls wore dresses and underwear made out of flour sacks, and their school lunches were lard sandwiches.

Twin girls during the Great Depression
Gramma (right) with her twin sister

She was used to having little and experiencing little of the world, and sometimes I wonder if she ever felt cloistered by her limitations like I tend to do. Was she lonely? Was she unhappy?

I never got to ask her those questions. I'm too much like her, introverted and quick to avoid deep personal discussions. Being the Norwegian Lutherans we were, our family didn't share feelings or hug much or say "I love you" more than was absolutely necessary. Those things were just implied in the everyday sharing of small joys.

While I'm sure Gramma wasn't entirely immune to the stress of keeping up with the Joneses—or, as is more the case in our area of the country, the Johnsons—I think she must have been really content with her life. Away from the pressures of popular culture, she was free to appreciate the more overlooked aspects of human existence that the rest of miss. She walked out in the countryside nearly every day, she worked with her hands, she made the best bread and jam in the world, she cherished silence, and she wasn't the least bit sorry when her VCR didn't work.

I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all. -Laura Ingalls Wilder

Most of all, she read a lot. Gramma read books even through her final years with Alzheimer's, when we joked she could probably read one book over and over and be equally surprised by the ending every time.

It's entirely possible that, like me, she made friends of the characters in those books and was able to experience diversity of life within their pages, all from the comfort of her favorite living room chair. She didn't need social media or a cell phone or ladies' nights at the local microbrewery to distract her from her shortcomings or convince her that she was being all she could/should be. She didn't worry about the latest fashions or waste time on her hair or makeup; those were silly trifles to her.

In comparison, I feel pretty worldly. I love clothes and cosmetics and looking my best. I spend more time than I should worrying about my appearance and what others think of me. After 30-plus years of painful introversion, I've grown comfortable enough in my own skin to begin enjoying people and trying new things. Gosh, I'm proud of that!

But when I get away from all those things, on the rare occasions I can be completely alone in a big grassy meadow, I find myself vastly more fulfilled by the solitude, the beauty of nature, the fresh air in my lungs, and the smallness of my essence in the grand scheme of history.

When I consider all that, and I compare the two of us, I think Gramma was the truly happy one.

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