I have no idea why this memory hit me, but it came in a gentle rush of warmth as I was winding down to sleep. It involves my grandmother and a ritual we had as I was growing up.
My grandfather died three months after I was born. He had been suffering through brain cancer for a long time and my grandmother nursed him at home until the end. Grandma was only 57 at the time, too young for social security to pay much, and too old to find anyone willing to hire her for decent wages. She was told she had no job experience as her work chiseled hands filled out applications. My mom and dad decided to move back to Minnesota to be near her and help out. One thought was that having a baby around (me), would distract Grandma from her loss. As the years passed by, it became normal for me to be at my parent’s house during the day and then walk over to Grandma’s house for the night. Grandma hated being alone during the remembering hours of darkness. We’d watch television, play cards, and talk. Actually, she talked and I mostly listened to her stories about growing up and life with my grandfather. It was wonderful.
It has taken me this long to fully comprehend how afraid she must have been when he died. She had so very little income and so few opportunities to earn money. Her pride and work ethic would not allow any kind of Welfare aid, and it rubbed off on me. If a person has an able body and mind they should contribute. Period. Grandma worked at tree farms when she could, and peeled poplar trees in the spring (which were then shipped to paper mills). Sometimes she found work as a cook during summer Bible camps, but it was hit or miss. Did I mention she didn’t know how to drive? Yep. It was another barrier to survival in the country. The thing is, I never heard her complain. She just kept going. The warm memory I spoke of concerns our bedtime ritual. I think, now, that she needed help facing the empty bed. Shortly before we were to retire, I’d get into my home-made flannel PJ’s. She’d fix me a small bowl of Jell-o, and fix herself a small glass of peppermint schnapps. When I got old enough, and if it was a special occasion, she’d give me a half shot of the schnapps too. We’d raise our glasses in a toast to better times, and allowed the soothing liquid to soften the edges of the day. I really miss her.