My grandmother, Beatrice Alexander Simmons, was born on April 29, 1908. Unfortunately she died in April of 2000, a few months after my mother and a few months before my great aunt. I lost three of the most significant women in my life that year. The loss of my grandmother was especially difficult because I not only grew up with her, but spent so much of my adult life near her. After I married, Mom and I wrote to each other each week, but rarely saw each other in person.
My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and the experience gave her an attitude and a resilience that were a match for anything and everything that life could throw at her. I seldom saw her cry. She didn’t often get angry. She just did what she thought she should and said what she thought and you could take it or leave it. Of course, if you were going to stay in her good graces you’d better take it!! One of her favorite sayings was, “I’ll take you over my checkered apron!” For those of you not raised by an Okie, that meant you were going to get laid over her lap and spanked! I never was…not because I was good, but because I was her only granddaughter.
My grandmother had a lot of funny sayings and words of wisdom and habits and idiosyncrasies that are indelibly linked to my memories of our life together. I’d like to share a few this morning.
1. Coffee is good. More coffee is better. My grandmother drank coffee all day long. Because of her experiences during the depression she also stock-piled it. I never knew her to have less than six pounds of coffee in the pantry. And she wasn’t opposed to a child having a little sip now and then, especially with Coffeemate and sugar! (She used saccharin.)
2. “You might have a good reason to miss church occasionally, but it better not become a habit.” My grandmother took me to church often. I remember going to church with her when I was so small that she would stuff sugar inside one of her handkerchiefs and let me suck on it so I would be quiet. She always gave me a handful of pennies for the offering plate. She always answered my questions about the service. She was very active in her Sunday School class. One of the great regrets of her life was that she out-lived all of her friends from church.
3. Cleanliness is your only choice around here! My grandmother must have been the original source of OCD in our family! It took me years to realize that, because we were all just so used to “Gran’s ways”. My mother liked cleanliness, but my grandmother insisted on it, inside and out. You could eat off her floor if you wanted to, but you’d better not eat in her living room if you knew what was good for you! A glass of tea might pass, but you’d better not leave the glass or a ring on the coffee table. I don’t remember any room in her house ever having “clutter” and her yard was immaculately mowed and trimmed at all times.
4. Food is good. More food is better. My grandmother was a “big woman”. That was her favorite description of her size. She loved to eat and she loved to cook. Her reputation as a cook spread throughout the community and the cafes where she worked always had crowds and lines. I remember the first time I visited “Johnny’s” and listened to her customers; I was so proud! Unfortunately when she cooked at home she often forgot that she was NOT at work. She would stand in the kitchen and say, “Well, I cooked enough for a log rolling camp, but we’ll finish it eventually.” We all learned to eat leftovers.
5. Hard work never killed anyone. My grandmother seldom sat down until she was exhausted. She worked all of her life and she expected those around her to do the same. She knew how to have a good time and she loved to have dinners and parties for family and friends. She adored games and spent hours playing Aggravation. However, you knew better than to tell her that something was too hard to do or that you were too tired to finish, especially if she was still standing beside you!
6. Friends are good. More friends are better. My grandmother collected people. She fed them, advised them, entertained them, admonished them. I learned not to be surprised if there were “extra guests” at Gran’s table. She often took in family members, including mine. We lived with her after my divorce and later when Gary and I had some financial difficulties. When I had trouble keeping a sitter for my girls she retired and stayed home with them.
7. You never know who you might see, so you’d better look good. My grandmother grew up in the “starched and ironed” era. She always dressed well, even to work in the yard. She wore an apron when she cooked. She loved pins and corsages and hats. She made most of her clothing and also sewed for a host of other people. She always wore hose and, when they were still the fashion, gloves. She always, always wore a girdle. She always carried a handkerchief, and an extra one for someone else. And, by the way, they were ironed!
I could go on and on, but the one thing my grandmother taught me that I want to be sure to pass on to you is that life is what you make it- you might as well make it as good as you can!
Have a great day!