They were quiet people. They were always old – they had white hair, and walked slowly. I was young – too busy running around with my cousins to talk to them. They were strong people. Farm people. They worked hard. They had 6 children and 14 grandchildren. Now they have 4 great-grandchildren.
Grampa was tall, thin, quiet and kind. Gramma was short with slightly rounded shoulders, and short white hair. Gramma wore cotton blouses and sensible trousers. Grampa wore jeans and button down shirts and had a puffy vest and baseball cap. So American.
I remember their house, with its’ massive yard, apple trees and well-cared for garden. I remember asking him why there was fencing around their vegetable plot – to me, fencing was for protection from humans and to keep cattle in. Ithaca was so safe – the safest place I knew – why did the garden need a fence if the house didn’t? So he taught me about deer and raccoons and other pests.
I remember snippets of my first winter. Heavy snow on the ground. Sledding on the golf course with my cousins. The way snow sticks to gloves and turns them wet. Learning how to walk in snow. Sitting in the living room, looking at all the little things that sat on their bay window frames. Little glass bottles and animals that were never dusty. Playing with old barbies, paper dolls and weebles. The lazy boy armchair that fascinated me.
I remember meals with the cousins. The plastic table cloth and heavy glasses. Seeing my cousins drink a full glass of milk before they were allowed any soda. I remember having my grandmother serve us blueberry pancakes – fresh blueberries from the garden – and eating them because they’d been made specially for us. I hated blueberries for so long because of those pancakes. Now I think of my grandparents whenever I eat them.
I remember my grandmother telling me to drink milk so that I wouldn’t end up a hunched over old lady with a crooked spine. I remember her apple peeler – a marvel of technology! I remember their wall clock that had bird chimes on the hour.
I remember my grandfather being the first man I ever knew who fished as a hobby. He brought trout to a gathering one summer. I was so impressed. I never stopped to really think about the quilts that hung up on the walls and the afghans on each couch and bed. Now I look at them and marvel at my grandmothers’ skill and patience. How did she do all that while raising 6 kids? She must have woken up very early.
Grampa’s past is still being uncovered by his children. His letters to grandma from the Front. His wartime medical records. The records of his medals. He was a quiet man. I wish we had her letters to him. What was the gossip from Dummerston, VT? How was Ruthie keeping herself busy while Bob was on the Front, marching through Germany?
Gramma’s past will likely be more silent than Grampa’s. She’s been mostly silent for the past 10 years. She’s had Alzheimer’s for a long, long time. A healthy old woman until the age of 94, only her mind was wandering. I want to believe that it wandered off to be with Grampa 10 years ago. Sometimes, when we visited, and my mom was telling stories of her childhood, Gramma would giggle, or mutter a little, seeming to come back to herself for a short time. She died with her children near her. She died with the best evidence of her loving, hardworking life surrounding her.
I wish I had some photos of our family to add to this.
Grampa died 10 years ago, when I was 16. Gramma died yesterday, at the age of 94.