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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Freedom from Want": Thanksgiving and grandmothers

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What I want is not the turkey on the platter, which seems too big for the spot where Grandma is placing it. And how is she carrying it anyway? My weak wrists would never make it, and the turkey would crash onto the floor. I’d let Grandpa carry it and smile sweetly, basking in the oohs and ahs.

What I want is Grandma herself. And Grandpa. How kind and cuddly they look.

The song associated with Thanksgiving is “Over the River and Through the Woods” which continues with “. . . to Grandmother’s house we go.” I never did such a thing. The only time I went to a grandparent’s house was at the time of Grandma Olive’s death and funeral, in Bayonne, New Jersey, when I was four. I played with toy cars in the steep driveway of my grandmother’s home on the bay. That’s what I remember.

When childhood friends said their grandma died, I thought, big deal. I had no heart pocket for such a relationship.

Grandpa Reuben is the only grandparent I remember, and he was not my mom’s biological dad. He was Grandma Olive’s second husband, who happened to be the cousin of her first, my mom’s dad Sidney. Olive didn’t have to change her last name when she married Reuben. I met Grandpa Reuben twice and was in love with him, the way a girl is in love with her grandpa. He was posh in suits but intensely kind.

Is there a word for being a grandchild orphan?

It is an odd and empty feeling not to have met my grandparents. But it is even odder now to contemplate that my grandparents did not meet all of their grandchildren. Dad’s dad was 70 when he was born; he fought in the Civil War in 1865; he died when Dad was 9. Dad’s mom died in the ‘50s before I was born, the last of eight kids. Mom’s biological dad Sidney was divorced from Grandma Olive and far away when we kids came along. Grandma Olive died when I was four; maybe she held me, I don’t remember. Then there was Grandpa Reuben, a fine substitute, but once on his jostling knees and once after his stroke in a wheelchair is it for memories.

Now, I’m going to be a grandma. When I first found out our daughter was pregnant, I thought I would need advice for my new role, since I had no grandparent memories to speak of. But guess what, there seems to be a heart pocket (think cargo pants) for this relationship after all. Strangely enough, while I’m loving my unborn grandson, it's almost like I'm sitting on my own lap, feeling loved.


Note about the painting: "Freedom from Want" was one of four "propaganda" posters by Norman Rockwell inspired by Theodore Roosevelt's speech to Congress January 6, 1941, urging the country to enter World War II. Read more here.
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58 comments:

C.M. Jackson said...

ruth-you will the most amazing grandma--the beat to you and yours on thanksgiving! cheryl

Louise Gallagher said...

Ruth my friend, like you, I never really knew my grandparents -- my mother's mother came from India to visit us in France when I was 13. She stayed 3 months and I had to give up my room. :) She gave me money and my brother more -- the son rises on the son :).

I only met my father's father once, in Montreal, at a hotel, before we took a ship across the Atlantic. I don't remember him -- other than the tension between him and my father. :)

No matter -- their blood flows within me, enriching my world with their untold stories.

Your grandchild is blessed to have a grandmother whose deep soul brings richness up through the ages. You will be the most amazing grandma because your heart is bigger than a pocket -- it's a room of love.

Hugs -- and Happy Thanksgiving.

Heather said...

You will be a wonderful grandmother. If you managed to be a great mom (which you did brilliantly) then being a grandmother will be a piece of cake. It's all about spoiling them and enjoying them. I actually think your grandparent experience is not uncommon. I had a wonderful grandfather, but my grandmother's mental illness did not in any way make her an ideal grandparent. My other grandmother (on my father's side) was quite young when she became a grandmother and I know she didn't relish the role until later (with later grandkids). Certainly, there was no "baking cookies with Grandma" in my childhood.

I know that your relationship with your grandchild will be wonderful. Good luck and enjoy the journey!

ellen abbott said...

Both my grandfathers died long before I was born, while my parents were still teens themselves. My paternal g'mother lived on the other side of this very large state and my father's family didn't care for my mother and she disliked them in return. She punished them by never allowing us to go visit. She (my g'mother) died when I was 14. I have one memory of her. My maternal g'mother was already old by the time I was born (my mother being a late baby). I have more memories of her and in fact she lived in a little apartment off our house for the last 10 years of her life. I would go over and spend time with her but like I said, she was old by then. She and my mother did not get along and she never, past the first few years, came into our house. My mother did not want to be a grandmother and wanted her grandkids to call her by her name. She never kept them, never played with them, never did things with them. My husband's mother was better, loves her grandkids but she played the grand dame. Again, didn't play with the kids, didn't take them places, do things with them. So when I became a grandmother, it was the most wonderful thing. I played with those babies, had them over to stay, took them for walks around the neighborhood, started gardens with them which we would plant twice a year, I take them out for special outings, etc. I am the grandmother I never had, that my own kids never had. And they will be here on Thursday and stay til Sunday after their parents leave. I can't wait.

Babs-beetle said...

My first thought, when seeing the photograph was - "How chauvinistic. Fancy letting that little woman carry that heavy turkey" My dad always carried heavy pots to the table for my mum. Then I read your comment :)

I also didn't know my grandparents, except my paternal grandfather, for a very short time. I probably only met him a couple of times before he died. I feel I missed out on a very special kind of love.

Nelson said...

Ruth,

You surely do stir up the memory bank!

- a side note on [our] Dad's mom, Elizabeth: she was 47 when Dad was born. I remember little other than that she was "stone deaf" - you had to yell in her ear. Apparently she lived with us when I was young - I have no memory of that and no memory of any fondness for her. Dad was kind to her, but I can't imagine what it was like for him to have lost his aged father at age nine, with a sister 7 years older and a brother 10 years older.

Yes, Reuben was intensely kind! As a grandmother you'll be like him, methinks.

xoxoxo

The Bug said...

My mother's parents died tragically when I was young (well, her mother died while she was pregnant with me). I had my dad's parent's for a lot longer - we lived on the same rural road as them. My grandmother just died about 5 years ago. But they weren't what you'd call warm & fuzzy. That voice in my head telling me to go to church? That's my grandmother's voice. But it's also the alto voice I try to use in the choir, so I did get some positive things from her.

You'll be fabulous - and if there's all this love now I can't wait to read what you write AFTER he's born :)

Friko said...

I saw this picture on somebody else's blog and grimaced at the sickly sweet, false 'happy families' image there too. Shiny, smiling faces, all blissful and happy, like a Victorian card, when everybody knows how different the reality could be.

I had two grandfathers, one of whom I hardly saw and who then died before I was in my teens and another one, who lasted a few years into my teens and whom we visited. He was fine but I can't remember being dandled on his knee. I never learned the art of grandparenting either. Both grandmas died before I was born.

The more I think about it the more I know that my childhood was a pretty lonely affair.

If you are allowed to do so, cherish your grandchildren. They'll remember you with love. My children adored the one pair of grandchildren they knew intimately.

Friko said...

Sorry, Ruth, that should be 'grandparents' in the last line.

(All these family rememberings are addling my brain)

hedgewitch said...

People's history is always fascinating to me...out of your paragraph the thing that struck me is how very odd it must have been to have a child born to you when you were 70--not a grandchild, but your own, knowing back in that era you couldn't possibly live to see it grow up. What a web of odd structures humans make with their biologically determined relationships, for sure.

And I agree, don't think you need to worry about your grandparenting skillset, Ruth. It's all about love, like everything important between humans.

The Broad said...

You will undoubtedly be a fantastic Grandma! I was so lucky to grow up with both my wonderful grandmothers who both lived well into their 90's. Unfortunately, my grandfather died when I was only 5, but I do have outstandingly fine memories of him, one of the kindest, sweetest men who ever lived! We now have six grandsons -- 3 of whom live in Korea. I miss them terribly, but was lucky to spend a year living with them before they went where my son's work took them so far away...

A footnote to the Norman Rockwell painting: Last Spring after visiting my Mother in a rehabilitation center after she broke her hip, I was waiting for an elevator with another woman around my Mom's age, and that picture was on the wall. She got quite excited and told me she was the woman with the dark hair on the right side of the table! I took a second look and sure enough she did look like an older version in the painting!!

Pat said...

I knew that was a Rockwell painting!

I, too, never met my grandparents...well, only one grandmother who died when I was 10. But never met my grandpas or other grandmother. I always wanted a grandpa. :(

BEING a grandma is a wonderful thing. Don't worry....you won't need lessons. The love bursts forth from your heart the minute you lay eyes on your little grandchild. And it seems like a totally DIFFERENT kind of love than that of loving your own little child. I don't know how to describe it. But it is wonderful.

Grandmother said...

Be prepared to fall utterly in love and then it all flows from there. I've been reading poetry to my grands since they were babes and giving them wonderful poetry books for kids. Last b'day when my granddaughter turned 5 she asked if I could find a poem just for her and read it to her at her party. My heart felt full. Imagine all you bring your grand!

Christina said...

Rockwell and your words- they both warm my heart.
happy thanksgiving, my friend.
xo

Pauline said...

I'm sorry you don't have memories of grandparents to look back on. But I know you will LOVE being a grandmother and you will be IN love with your grandchild. It is an all encompassing, delightful, deluge of feeling - I hope you enjoy every moment of it!

Gwen Buchanan said...

Yes oh yes.."almost like sitting on my own lap, feeling loved"... we find ways to comfort ourselves ...it is melancholy and happy at the same time.

missing moments said...

Such a wonderful post .... I miss my grandmother every day. She was my mother and primarily raised me.
Hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Ruth said...

Cheryl, thank you for your vote for me as grandma! and for your best Thanksgiving wishes! Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Ruth said...

Louise, I appreciate your stories, and your embrace of how your grandparents' blood carries them to and through you.

Oh yes, this is a very big pocket, and I'm sitting inside it. Hugging you back, and Happy Thanksgiving from down here in America-land!

Ruth said...

Heather, it seems that consciousness grows, and parents who now become grandparents are more engaged and interested in showering their kids' kids with love. On my way home from work yesterday NPR had a piece on a class for grandparenting! Ha. The truth is things have changed a lot regarding babies, and we have to catch up with our kids' knowledge about that.

I can't tell you how much your words mean to me about being a mom. It wasn't easy, as you know, at times, but we just kept loving them, knowing we would make mistakes and fail along the way. But love was the goal, and it seems to have turned out pretty well so far.

Lesley enjoyed her time with you yesterday!! Happy Thanksgiving to you and Critter, my dear friend.

Ruth said...

Ellen, it couldn't be said better than how you said it: I am the grandmother I never had. Amen, and on with the show! A Happy Thanksgiving is in store for you, I think.

Ruth said...

Babs, a special kind of love, yes. There is a big chasm for me, a missing piece. But as Ellen said, I can be the grandmother I never had. It's inspiring. And truly, there is no effort, it just flows. I might have to work at stemming it!

Nah.

Ginnie said...

I have some of Nelson's memories, of course, being closer in age to him than to you. What I remember most about G'pa, besides how he played Honky-Tonk on the piano, was the package of Chiclets gum always on his car's dashboard...and how we were always allowed to have a piece when we rode with him. That was like heaven to me as a wee girl.

I agree with Nelson that you will be like G'pa, spoiling that little boy rotten...in all the best ways. You'll need no training. You already are who you want and hope to be!

Ruth said...

Nelson, not only was Grandma Elizabeth 47 when Dad was born, she was 37 when her first was born! Her story, and Grandpa's, must have been something. I have so little attraction to them, but there is so little information.

Then there is Reuben. You've given me a gift to think I'll be like him. I want to be. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Dana, what we inherit from grandparents is as complicated as people are. The way our stories progress and grow is fascinating.

I can't wait to FEEL and WRITE after he's born myself! Thank you. :-)

Ruth said...

Friko, times have changed so much. It's amazing to see it. The way our grandparents were in that generation, and the way we grandparents are becoming now. It's almost like we are repairing something that was wrong and missing, at least many of us might feel that. I know I do.

Yes, this painting presents a pretty idealized version of family life, doesn't it. I was interested in your response, because I hadn't seen it that way, but I do now! When I see Rockwell, I see stories, faces, Americana as we were encouraged to see it. In these propaganda posters especially, we were supposed to fight for this ideal America. The truth of Rockwell's own life was far from ideal. Both his wives suffered and possibly committed suicide. He himself suffered from depression. But in those days, people weren't supposed to reveal such things. Depression wasn't spoken of openly. And so I see this painting as a creation out of that cultural reality, from a man who couldn't paint as he wanted to and earn a living for the Saturday Evening Post. They didn't want Picassos. They wanted these feel good scenes.

There is a very good article about Rockwell by Christina Larson here.

I always appreciate your honesty, my friend.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Hedge. Yeah, our history is pretty tight, or loose, whichever way you look at it. This grandpa's father was born in the 1700s. My dad died in 1995, but his sister lived to 2004. So in three generations, they touched four centuries. But to be a parent of a newborn at 70 just boggles my mind, especially back in 1917, when 70 was more like 100 now. Yes, fascinating stuff.

I've stopped worrying about grandparent skills. That lasted like 5 minutes. :-) But I do need to learn about diapers. Wow, have they changed.

Ruth said...

To The Broad, I just love your stories. We know one of your grandmothers was secretary to William Carlos Williams, and now you tell me that both your grandmothers were wonderful. Hallelujah! And you met the woman from the painting!

I don't even want to think about when and if my daughter and her husband and my grandson have to move, if they do. But so far away as Korea, oh how do you stand it?

Ruth said...

Pat, your comment about always wanting a grandpa makes me think of people I've known who have adopted friends to fill roles like that. It's really about wanting unconditional love, without filters of responsibility and obligation.

Thanks for your encouragement from your own experience, which already is my own. And he's not even here yet!

Ruth said...

Mary, yes! See how you give your grandchildren yourself, and they want more more more. I think about what I will give my grandson. Poetry, yes. And jazz. Lots and lots of books and reading on my lap. Walks in the woods and meadow. Ahhh, I can't wait.

Ruth said...

Hello, Christina. Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your beautiful family!

Ruth said...

Pauline, I already feel blissful, like maternity times 100. It's so cool having grandmas confirm this from your experience. I feel myself filling up like a balloon. Thank you!

Ruth said...

Gwen, so true. I think we can't feel joy completely until we have suffered loss or emptiness.

Ruth said...

Reena, I was thinking of the grandmothers who raise their grandchildren in this post too. What a bond you must have had with yours.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ruth said...

Boots, if I knew Grandpa Reuben played honky tonk on the piano, I didn't remember it. I remember the Chiclets too, and the Lifesaver books at Christmas. I also remember the A&P truck and gas station set (Texaco, I think) that he brought for John and me.

Thank you for agreeing with Nelson. Grandpa Reuben is the best inspiration.

:-)

Brendan said...

I'm a "grandchild orphan" too -- we were a spread-out clan, with us in Chicago, my father's parents in Cedar Rapids and my mother's mother in Jacksonville, FL. Funerals was mostly what I know of them. As I approach a grandfatherly age -- my estranged stepdaughter's kids are almost teenagers now -- there is a similar "heart-pocket" where those vanished and mostly unknown grandparents are faintly throbbing. A desire to nurture somehow, to assure the younger that everything will be OK. I have absolutely no wisdom, but can say that from my own experience that patience is everything. I used a parody of the Rockwell painting in a NASCAR-themed post, where redneck grandparents serve up Kentucky Fried Chicken to their hellions. Imagine going home to the snarly drunken outhouse-mouthed horny rockabilly grandparents of John Waters' "Cry Baby." That was more like my father's father's father's Thanksgiving. - Brendan

Ruth said...

Brendan, your great comment gets at the mystery of the chasm for me. The chasm of what we always wanted and couldn't have, and we look for it our whole life, consciously or unconsciously. I think patience, nurturing patience, is a great way to think of this grandparently presence. We can give it to ourselves if we didn't have it, and we can give it to the young people in our lives, grandchildren or otherwise. I have finally learned to really listen to my college student advisees, as I never have before. This is partly from confidence that has grown from experience, and I have to think partly something my grandson has already taught me: every new person has something to say.

I love that parody painting of this one! It cracks me up big time. We all have what we have, and this is the time we get to look closely and say, good, this is who I am, I'm thankful. Even what's missing is a blessing, because the longing can wake me up to something inside.

Thanks, friend.

Shari Sunday said...

Ruth, I knew my paternal grandparents. They had a farm in Oklahoma but I have no memories of my grandfather. I remember my grandmother making chocolate bread pudding for Thanksgiving and she told me once I "had a cute little butt." I thought that was such an odd thing to say. There was usually a lot of tension when my father's family got together. I learned to be a mom and a grandma from my mother. She overdid both a little since she was an orphan herself. You nailed the two things that mean Thanksgiving to me. I spent years trying to get a turkey that shade of brown and wishing for a big dining room table. I still long to drive through the woods to a big house with lots of family and a warm fireplace with the smell of ccoking. (Kind of the way I imagine your house.) Now I have gotten used to a sunny Thanksgiving day and have learned to enjoy cooking. Jaime is having Thanksgiving at her house this year so I expect to have a more peaceful day. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. You will make a wonderful Grandma.

VioletSky said...

I don't know that I have much to add to these comments. Like so many others, I never knew my grandparents as they were all long gone by the time I was born. When, as a teen and I finally met my mother's (much older) sister who lived in Scotland, and I got to know her, a small part of me thought of her as a substitute grannie (she would have been horrified had she ever known!). Her name was even Nan. I suspect that had I ever known my father's family they would not have been cute and cuddly, so perhaps it is better to have missed out on that.

Kanelstrand said...

Ruth, your story touched me because I have the fondest memories of my grandparents. Grandparents are so much kinder and relaxed to their grandchildren because they are freed of the burden to necessarily educate, I believe.

So, although you don't have a lead to follow, I am sure that love will lead you.

erin said...

ruth, you have such a capacity for love and celebration. not even any wrinkles are required, ruth. you can be as young as you are and yet still be all of the best of a grandparent. and i have every confidence that you are.

xo
erin

Arti said...

A lovely post and very moving. Whenever I read about your hopes and dreams as a future grandma, you send a heartful of warm fuzzies out, Ruth. And I've enjoyed reading them as I would have eaten a turkey dinner. Warm and gratifying. May I send you and yours heartfelt Thanksgiving wishes: Have a joyous family time! I look forward to reading your write-up on it, photos, and poetry. (P.S. don't feel pressured about reading any books or watching any movies that I recommend... take your time and enjoy. I'm sure you'll be back to share once you've experienced them.) ;)

Peter said...

I had the privilege to know three of my grandparents … (my paternal grandmother died in the Spanish flue when my dad was three) and for many years. Yes, many good memories! Yes, the relationship with grandkids is something very special … and even better if they live fairly close! You will soon know!

Interesting to read about the use of Rockwell’s paintings for Americans to enter WWII. Thanks in all respects!

(I wonder where grandma will put the plate, no space on the table!) :-)

Mimmu said...

Happy Thanksgiving day to you Ruth and yours!
And thank you for this great conversation, what you have got here.

I can tell you, you do not need any example or even memories for being grandmother - you need only love and respect :)

Warm regards
Leena

Ruth said...

Dear Shari, thank you for sharing your memories of grandparents and Thanksgiving celebrations. I suppose there are as many different kinds of grandmas and grandpas as there are people. We all can listen better to each other, and grow. I am pretty sure you will have a beautiful Thanksgiving with your family over at Jaime's. I look forward to seeing what you post about it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ruth said...

Hello, Violetski! You always make me smile. Yes, we can adopt people to fill in this important role, if we're lucky, like you did with Nan. I love it.

Ruth said...

Sonya, it's so true what you say. Grandparents, if they don't raise their grandchildren (as Reena's did), can love love love and not feel the weight of responsibility of the decisions that are made daily in the child's life. I love how you said that love will lead me. I feel this already. Thank you.

Ruth said...

erin, thank you for that. Even I admit that I have a large capacity to love. I know this. I also know that I have capacity for fear, that comes in disguise as something else at times. It's a daily education.

Love.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Arti.

We are already having a lot of fun this week, relaxing, cooking, playing games, gazing at the stars from the hot tub. It is a time to take a break and spend time together, so good.

I love your movie and book reviews, and I will read or see them in my time and way, the ruthie method, which is slow indeed. :-)

Thank you for your Thanksgiving wishes!

Ruth said...

Dear Peter, it is so nice to see you. How wonderful that you knew three of your grandparents! I knew there was something special about you. I know that you enjoy your grandchildren. I have been observing you from afar, taking notes.

I agree with your wonderment about grandma placing that heavy platter of turkey, as if it is light, and as if there is room for it! Someone better stop smiling and talking and move the glasses and salt and pepper out of the way!

Ruth said...

Dear Mimmu, hello and thank you, my friend! You, like Peter, are my beautiful model of grandparenting from afar. Your precious grandchildren are respected and loved by you so well. Thank you always, and thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes! A beautiful day to you.

Cait O'Connor said...

This post touches me as I had no grandparents either, I was adopted at the age of fourteen months so I lost my mother then too - I have since found my roots but when I became a grandmother I had no memories or idea of how to behave - not everyone understands how people who have grown up without their natural family are kind of 'rudderless'.

Susan said...

Believe me, you were born to be a grandmother and will need no tutoring, because you have learned it all in your heart. That is one lucky Poppy Seed.

California Girl said...

I posted four lesser known (today) Thanksgiving paintings by Rockwell to Empty Nest. I posted a Muppet version of "Freedom from Want" to Women of A Certain Age. LOL!

Happy Thanksgiving to you & your family.

amy@ Souldipper said...

I came along rather late in everyone's life... so I also have only one memory of one grandparent - my maternal grandfather. He was a grouch who was not enamored with 5 "country raised children". Seems we didn't fit who he was - a pooh bah for the national railroad. We didn't think he fit our lifestyle either. The railroad liked his starchy, pompous British aire and attitude. Our animals didn't.

You are going to make up for lost time. I can just tell...

Oliag said...

Ruth, I think you will find being a grandparent easy!

Don Ray Williams said...

I have a set of the four freedom posters by Normal Rockwell. I need to get them out and have them frames. Thanks for jogging my memory.

Jeanie said...

So lovely, Ruth. I'm glad you have that "pocket!" But I wouldn't have thought that would be missing at all!

I was very close to one set of grandparents, my grandma, in particular. But the other died before I was born, and from all I know about her, I sense we were kindred spirits in many ways. I've often felt that loss -- the loss of one I never knew -- as profoundly as I've felt more face-to-face losses. Still, part of her is in me, and really -- isn't that the best?