birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Grandmothers' Houses

I knew both of my grandmothers, but not well. I have read, as an adult, that some grandmothers were warm, loving, and taught their granddaughters to bake. I even have friends who are that kind of grandmother. My own mother was much warmer and friendlier as a grandmother than she was as a mother to her seven children, or than her mother was as a grandmother .She was not trying to teach her grandchildren so many things, or struggle to make a life and (later) a living.

My grandmothers both had Limoges china, the good silver that came out for holiday meals, cut crystal glass, and lace tablecloths. My mother had those things too, and used them for the same occasions.

My father’s mother who lived two doors away in an elegant house stuffed full of treasures was more interesting, partly because of her house, and partly because of her family. Also, she gave me dolls, of which I had very few. But she died when I was ten or so, and I knew my mother’s mother much better.

My mother’s mother had strokes when she was older, and one of my favorite memories of her was an indirect one. My mother complained that Nelle wanted to talk about the angels that she was seeing, in her later days. My mother felt strongly that she ought to be much more interested in the boys’ (my three brothers) baseball games and Boy Scout activities. I felt that if my grandmother was seeing angels, she should be encouraged to tell us about them – much more interesting that yet another account of a yet another baseball game. 

The grandmothers’ houses were different in another way. My mother was one of five children, and four of her five siblings married, and all of them had a minimum of five children. Altogether there were seven kids in my family, and 18 cousins with whom we could play. Often, a dozen or so of us were at Nelle’s house together. My father’s mother had only three children; my father and mother had us seven kids; his brother had one, and his sister had none. 

Because I didn’t have much of a personal relationship with either grandmother, their daughters who lived with them were important connections. Aunt Teresa lived two doors away with my father’s mother; Elizabeth lived in Kalamazoo with Nelle. Both of them were our connections to the grandmothers; maybe more like substitute grandmothers?

Addendum: I have been working on a haibun that is also about grandmothers:


January 3, 2018

Grandmothers’ Eyes


painted pink blossoms
on her open fan hiding
sly glances

When I was eight, I wanted to be Grandma Moses painting pictures that you could climb in to march alongside the bands at the fair. Or you could watch the hippo yawning in its lake at Brookfield Zoo, and the flamingos strutting through their ponds by the gate. You could see brides at weddings, and carriages in the snow, and men chopping wood by barns.

When I was twenty, my Grandma Nelle was in her eighties. She would stop in the middle of a conversation where my mother was telling her about the boys’ ball games, and tell us about the angels she was seeing. My mother wanted her to come back to us and listen to talk about pitchers and catchers, scores and coaches. I didn’t care about the boys’ ball games any more than Grandma did – her angels were a lot more interesting.

When I was fifty I discovered a folk art museum: rooms full of plaster and wooden people playing concerts in the town squares, and visiting around dinner tables. Geishas hid their come-hither smiles behind pleated fans. In one porcelain scene, a bakery maiden had stopped what she was doing, her hand on a loaf of bread, and her eyes looking up -- like Grandma Nelle’s. Her customer stood nearby eying the pastries in the glass case and gossiping, maybe about that handsome boy at the ball game in the next scene over.

When I am eighty and making Grandma Moses worlds there will always be someone in them looking up. It might be cheating to see angels through painted eyes and those of elders. I’ll take it.

grasshopper singing
remembered at winter hearth
the ants forgotten
 

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