Tuesday, August 12, 2014


 Nana, Mimi, Big Mama, Mee Maw, Gigi. Grandma—What ever you call your Grandmother, or Great- Grandmother- these women hold special places in our lives. 

In Grand Mothers: Poems, Reminiscences, and Short Stories About The Keepers Of Our Traditions, Nikki Giovanni invited several friends and a group of writers in their nineties to share their thoughts on these special women.  In this collection, we find contributions by Gwendolyn Brooks, Gloria Naylor, Maxine Hong Kingston, and even Giovanni’s own mother.

Both of my Grandmothers were short with long mixed-gray hair which they each wore in a bun. They each wore yesteryear’s typical old-lady shoes—black tie-up oxfords, with thick, short  cuban heels.  Neither one of them ever wore pants—housedresses were their daily uniforms.

Although, to little-girl me, my grandmas seemed old, I am now the age they were then or older.

It sounds like my grandmothers were a lot alike.  That is on paper only.
Despite seemingly similar descriptions,  they couldn't have been more different, not only even in appearance, but in daily activities and personalities, as well.

Alma Reed Jackson
My paternal grandmother watched me daily—just as regularly and faithfully as she watched her afternoon stories (Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, and The Guiding Light.)  In the morning she watched Art Linkletter’s Children Say the Darndest Things, Queen for a Day, The Price is Right, and other game shows. She also watched Amos and Andy.

I played at her feet, literally—one of my favorite games was shoe store in which she would be the customer and I the helpful clerk showing her the latest shoes.  If her sister, my aunt Della, was there, I had another willing customer-- the store would be busy that day.

She seemed to be in that chair most of the day, except when she was getting my lunch.

I remember her house—much larger than ours –four stories of fascination—lots to poke into and explore. Surprisingly, I was allowed to play with her many knick-knacks – glass and porcelain items, fancy ladies, bowls, figurines of animals, and other what-nots.

This was where my father had been raised—where he had lived all of his life until the army.  There were traces of him everywhere—like the chunk of petrified wood that sat on the fireplace hearth in the parlor from one of his geology expeditions and the chemistry molecule set (that looked like round building toys, which is how I used them).  

He officially left this home when he married my mother and moved not far from his parents. 

On the second  floor were bedrooms, filled with homemade quilts and lacy sheets; they were perfect places for naps and sleepovers.  And the boarders who sometimes lived in the third floor attic bedroom were always of interest.

The dark, creepy basement was where all the fruits and vegetables that my grandma had canned were stored.   Several rooms were down there—each shadowy enough to set your imagination to working. You hoped you wouldn’t be sent to fetch a jar.
I don't remember specific conversations with my grandmother, but I know she was quick to smile and laughed a lot. I know I was happy and safe in her house.

This was my Columbus Grandma, my hometown Grandma. 
She died when I was six.

Hildegarde "Hilda"  Lyons Whiting
My New Jersey Grandma, my maternal grandmother lived in a small two-story doll house over 200 years old.   In 1976 there was a bicentennial plaque placed on her house, stating as much.  She soon took it down because she got tired of people knocking on her door wanting to see the inside.

Her house was just a mile from the Atlantic coast.  Sand from the beach crept into her yard and on into the house. We spent many fun days at the nearby beach with aunts and uncles and lots and lots of cousins.

She rarely sat.   I only remember her sitting to eat her meals, when we had visitors, or to watch an hour or so of TV in the evening--always Lawrence Welk on Sunday. 

She was always washing dishes, or cleaning, or carrying things upstairs, or cooking, or otherwise engaged.

Although I had to help with chores at home, this tiny, stern grandmother felt that children were inherently dirty and did not want us to help with chores until we were much older.  

She was particularly pleased if you were reading.  Don’t bother that child, Betty, she is reading.
Betty is my mother, her daughter.

Nosiness was not tolerated—and getting into grown folks’ business was a definite no-no. (although it one of my favorite  pastimes.)  She was quick to tell you in the midst of your inappropriate question Lay o’ for meddlers, which loosely translates Mind your own business. This conversation is not for children.

She was proud of us (and our parents) beyond measure.  She bragged on us often to her many siblings. We often receive her highest acclamation—Swell!

My New Jersey Grandma died when I was 29, living long enough to see me graduate from high school, graduate from college twice, get married-- and just generally be a grown-up.

Most of us have Grandmother memories and stories.  Most of us have learned lessons and shared conversations and special moments with our grandmothers .

There are many wonderful books that will help us think about, remember, honor and celebrate these special ladies. These are several of my favorites.

The youngest readers will enjoy The Grandma Book by Todd Parr. His colorful illustrations will inspire their own  colorful images and stories.

In the eyes of our grandmothers, we are beautiful and we are important. They teach us to look at ourselves with the same eyes.

Nana teaches this lesson in No Mirrors in My Nana's House: Musical CD and Book

Grandmothers, not only tell us we are beautiful, that we are special, and that we can do and become anything, but they also expose us to the "anything" we might do and become.

In Amazing Grace ,  by Mary Hoffman, Grace's grandmother takes her to the ballet, opening up new possibilities, and helping her gain the confidence to play Peter Pan in the school play.

In Saturdays and Teacakes  by Lester Laminack,  a young boy enjoys spending his Saturdays with his Mammaw, helping her do chores.

At the end of their work time together, he delights in helping her bake delicious teacakes-- their special ending to each special  Saturday.

Most of my friends are grandmothers.

One of the many special things they do for their grandchildren is take them on trips-- adventures in which they travel near and far, learning and experiencing new things, and just having fun enjoying each other's company.

And then there are grandmothers like the one in Abuela (English Edition with Spanish Phrases), who take their grandchildren on amazing  imaginary adventures that also fuel  many new possibilities in life.

Grandmothers are powerful women, teachers, and role models.

There is a movement afoot in which living grandmothers are actively working to change the world-- making it a better place of their grandchildren-- for all children.

In Grandmother Power, we find the profiles of activist grandmothers in fifteen countries on five continents who tell their compelling stories in their own words.

These courageous women are variously bringing solar light to their villages, fighting genital mutilation and sex slavery, sustaining weaving traditions, teaching children to love reading and books, fighting AIDS and more.  Across continents they are working for peace in their corners of the world.

For more information about this global grandmother movement click here.

 Indeed, Grandmothers are powerful.  

Although mine are both long dead, they continue to visit, guard, and guide me regularly in my dreams.
I recently wrote this poem, Grandmother Power about their night visits.  I continue to rely on them.

Yes, our grandmothers are special women.
We remember, honor and celebrate them.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Remember and  reflect on your grandmother(s).

How has she been involved in your life? How has that relationship changed as your grew older?

List important events, conversations, and lessons related to your grandmother.

Use my post above, the several  book sshared, and/or my poem, Grandmother Power, as mentor texts.

Write a short portrait of your grandmother or a poem to honor her, incorporating items from your list.

This may be the beginning of a longer piece exploring  her life or a portion of her life.

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