Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ahead of Her Time

She couldn't carry a tune, but she sang out loudly and proudly. Her singing voice may have been off-key, but I could listen to her talk forever. I can still hear the rhythm of her voice as she recited a poem for me.

My grandma always had all the time in the world for me, and she answered every one of my annoying kid questions, happily and patiently. She was an object of fascination. She would take her false teeth out on command, and she'd hold them out and up close so my brothers and I could get a good look.

I remember waiting for her train to come in. I would stand next to the platform with my mom and my brothers, straining to hear a hint of her arrival. Her arthritis was bad, and the train conductor would have to help her down the clanging metal steps. I can still picture her black t-strap shoes as they appeared on the bottom step.

The pain from her arthritis must have been excruciating at times, but she always smiled through it. It took her several tries to get up from her chair. I would stand next to her, and rock back and forth, encouraging her to make it to a full standing position. Then we'd both cheer when she was upright.

She was born without the fingers on her left hand, but she wore no prosthesis. She used to say she could do anything except pound a nail. I loved how that hand felt in mine. It was just the right size to fit in my little-girl hand.

She was strong when most people would have given up. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the late 1920s, early 1930s, and sometimes she would need to stay overnight to keep the coals going through the cold North Dakota winters. Two of her babies died before they reached the age of five, and I can't imagine what that must have been like for her--waiting to bury them until the ground thawed.

My grandpa died when they still had young children at home, but she kept moving forward, raising and protecting her family. She was a hard worker through tough times, and once chased an intruder off her property with a rifle. She took in boarders to help make ends meet, but she was always willing to share what she had. Sometimes the sheriff would deputize her during the holidays so she could take an occupant of the small town jail home for a nice dinner.

The Lutheran church she attended let the men go up first for communion. Grandma went up with the men, and ignored the whispered comments and stares. She had to get to her restaurant job at the Percolator, and she had no time to waste. She had a family to feed.

My grandma was ahead of her time, and I'm sure she was looked down on back then, for some of the decisions she made as a woman. What an example of strength and patience and compassion she set for me and for my brothers. I'd give anything to be waiting to hear the clang of those black, t-strap shoes on that train platform again.

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