For many years, my grandmother worked at Ray’s Drugstore and Hallmark shop. Half of the store was your standard drug store- aisles of toiletries, and over the counter medicines with a few small areas for toys or candy. The other half of the store was the Hallmark shop- aisles of cards and gift items displayed attractively much like it is today. Because of her job, she began what became an important holiday tradition for my family. Every year, she purchased a Hallmark ornament for each of the grandkids. When I got married, my mother packaged up my ornaments and gave them to me. That first year of marriage they were the only things hanging on my tree. Now, I buy my girls Hallmark ornaments every Christmas just like my grandmother did.
My grandparents lived in a small country house out among the fields of Junction City, Oregon. They planted pine trees all around their yard to block off the view of miles of open field. It made the house cozy as the trees began to grow, but it wasn’t until I was grown that the trees were big enough to serve their purpose and to provide privacy and a great shelter from the wind. I have fond memories of their house. I stayed there many times as I was growing up. My favorite room in the house was the room we called the White Bedroom. It had a white carpet, a brass bed, with a quilt that was a white fabric surrounding pale calico pieces. It had white sheer curtains and one of those old fashioned windows that had to be pushed up to open. They had apple and cherry trees bordering their driveway, and beyond that a flower garden filled with every kind of Dahlia. When I got married, they decided to sell the house, get a trailer, and travel. I miss their house very much. I got their bedroom set when they moved. I still have it.
My grandmother always went to the beauty shop to have her hair done. For many years, she dyed it black- a very common look in the 1950’s, but one that got to be too strong a color for her as she got older. She started to lighten it to brown, then, as the years passed, her hair couldn’t hold the color anymore. Her color got lighter and lighter until for awhile it was nearly pink. She finally let it go white, but she still got it styled as often as she could. She was very generous, and always gave things when she visited. There was always a shirt that she had just never worn after she bought it, or shoes that didn’t fit just right after she got them home from the store. She once tried to give me a used pair of nylons. She loved writing cards and letters, and took great pride in her lovely handwriting.
My grandparents traveled the countryside for many years in their trailer. They loved RV campgrounds, and had joined RV communities. As they grew tired of travel, they settled for the winter months at an RV park in Southern California, then would take the pickup truck to visit family. When my grandmother fell and broke both wrists, it became apparent that both of them had deteriorating health. They lived with my parents, moving with them to Utah. My grandfather died after suffering from alzheimers and dementia. My grandmother lingered, suffering a series of mini strokes that left lasting damage. She died Saturday, June 18th. She was 90 years old.
My relationship with my grandmother grew strained when I was a teenager. I had a great relationship with my parents, and wasn’t rebellious with them. Instead, all of my moody emotional angst was directed toward my grandparents. I was angry and irritated with her because every time she came over she would criticize my hair, or my weight, or something else she didn’t like. She would do it in a roundabout way that wouldn’t directly insult. “Why don’t you go comb your hair before we leave?” meant that my hair looked terrible and she didn’t like it. “Have you lost weight?” meant that I was looking pudgy. She would do the same thing when she wanted something done. Rather than asking for something directly, she would hint and comment about it until somebody was annoyed enough to go and do it for her. Her passive aggressive behavior, and my teenage rebellion were not a good combination. I spent years trying to repair the damage. I never did reclaim the adoration that I had for her as a child, but I think I managed patience and polite respect.
It didn’t help that my family left the Methodist church to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My grandmother couldn’t accept our new religion, and would use her passive aggressive ways to make negative comments about our church. It was a big effort to stay polite, and it made us sad that we couldn’t share our faith with her. After my grandparents moved in with my parents, they decided that if they were going to move to Utah with them, they should join our church. I remember when my mother told me that they were getting baptized, my jaw hit the floor. I asked her, “What did you do with my REAL grandparents?” By the time my grandmother was baptized, she already had brain damage from several strokes. The church leaders determined that she was lucid enough to make the choice to be baptized, but I don’t know how much she really understood about the covenants she was making. I do know that it was a great joy to go through the temple with her, laying to rest one of the biggest sources of contention in our relationship.
I will miss my grandmother, the good and the bad. I hope to treasure the good memories, and to learn from her faults and make sure they never become MY faults. She loved her grandchildren, and did her best to show us how much she loved us in so many ways. I remember once when I was sick, and my mother was working full time. She had never left me home alone before, and worried that I would be afraid. My grandmother left the pharmacy and came to see me on my lunch break to make sure I was alright. She made me soup, and brought me comic books and treats from the drugstore so that I wouldn’t be bored. As her gifts got stranger, like the used nylons, I never forgot the generosity and the intention behind them. I look forward to the day when I can see her again, free of the damage caused by so many strokes. I want to hear her stories.