Stories

Recently, I began asking my dad more about my mother’s family.

Even though my mother has been gone since 1987, my dad is still an amazing source whenever I’m craving insight into her family.   He has been and still is the go to guy when I want to know anything about my grandparents or mother.  I’m pretty sure if my dad ever took piñata form, and you knocked him open, nothing but stories would come falling out.  I may look exactly like my mother, but my personality is straight up from my dad.

I have written before about my grandmothers.  This time around, I wanted to dig a little deeper about the one who I barely remember or who I think I barely remember.  (Does remembering a deep smoker’s voice telling me to give her “some sugar” count as a memory?)  Who is my mother’s mother?

When I googled my grandmother’s name, I found out my great grandparents name, which I never knew before.  But I don’t want to just create a family tree, look at all the filled-in names, say, “I’m done,” and then pat myself on the back for doing such a splendid job.  I want to get to know these names, not just where they place in my family tree.

During my great family google, I even uncovered a great aunt’s name, which I had never heard (or maybe I had, but it had been so long that I had forgotten).  According to my dad, my great grandfather and his family arrived in Texas in a cover wagon.  My mom’s cousin told me that my great aunt was a loving woman who greeted beloved family members by kissing them and exclaiming, “I love you!”  Another cousin of my mom’s said that my mother made the best lasagna.

See, I did not know that.

My grandmother died when I was 3 years old of lung cancer, and my mother died when I was 7.  I’m not that close to my mother’s siblings since I have never lived in the same state as any of them.  I have these family members out there who I don’t know, and who don’t know me.  Sadly, I have these family members I will never know.

Every time I look at this photograph of me sitting next to my grandmother, where my face is so done up with so much makeup that I looked like a toddler beauty queen, it makes me laugh.  Man, she must have had a good time painting my little toddler face.   I wonder if she would have found my anti-girly girl personality during my teen-aged years to be unbecoming and would have had talks with me about how I could pretty up my appearance.

While pictures are great, stories are something else.  When I hear these stories, no matter how insignificant they might be to the story teller, my grandmother and mother come alive.  They become real people.  Any stories about these women slowly fill in giant holes in my heart that cancer created.  I don’t care if the stories paint either woman in a less than flattering light.  They were real life humans once, before cancer came along, and they had flaws just like everyone else.

I am third generation cancer.  I am sad that I never got to hear stories from my grandmother about what my mom was like as a child.  I have certainly never dreamed of shopping for wedding gowns since my mother and grandmother are no longer here.  Cancer took them from me, but lately, when I learn more about them, they are more than the disease that took their lives.  They are my family, and I know that I come from a line of women who will always be more powerful than cancer.

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My grandmothers

In my life, I have had three grandmothers.  When friends my age talk about visiting their grandparents, I feel a slight twinge of jealously.  My last grandparent died when I was in my early 20s, just barely into adulthood.  I’ve been thinking about each of these women and the roles and impact they had on my life.

Grandma

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This is my father’s mother, who my brothers and I just called Grandma.  She died when I was in my early 20s, so I luckily I have more solid memories of her.  Grandma wasn’t a very emotional person.  I don’t remember her being  excited or angry or any extreme emotion.   Whenever we visited her, Grandma never sat down and ate with us.  She stayed in the kitchen, and she was ready if you needed seconds or more tea or water.

Grandma was always there for my brothers and I growing up.  She showed up to graduations, confirmations, weddings, whatever she could.  She sent birthday cards and Christmas cards.  Grandma was there.  When my mother died of metastatic breast cancer, Grandma came up and helped take care of my brothers and me.  While she was not an emotionally demonstrative woman, I always knew that she cared and loved us because she was there.  She is why I believe that if you care, you show up.  If it’s not in person, you call or send a card.  You show up.

Granny

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This was my mother’s mother, who my brothers and I called Granny.  She died of lung cancer when I was three, maybe four, years old.  I have two very faint memories of Granny.  I’m not even sure if they are memories, maybe snippets.  Granny was the only one who called me Lolly, and when she died, that nickname died with her.   The other thing I remember about Granny was her gravelly, low voice, which said to me, “Give me some sugar, Lolly.”  No lie, she is the reason why I never wanted to smoke or became a smoker.  Her voice scared me as a child, and that fear never left me in middle school and high school when my classmates began smoking in secret.

However, Granny wasn’t just a cautionary tale for me.   I’ve gone through old photos of her, Papa and my mother probably hundreds of time.  Plus, my father has  been a historian of my mother’s side of the family, and he’s told me so many stories of her and my mothers side of the family.  Granny comes across as stoic and proper, like she would have been that old-fashioned Southern stereotype you see and hear about.   Beautiful and strong – I bet nobody messed with her, like I know nobody messed with my mother.  (Maybe I’m like them both?)  A couple of years ago, my dad gave me a huge pile of letters that Granny wrote to my mother and father in the 1970s.  It’s so neat that I have tangible evidence of my grandmother’s love for her daughter.

Nana

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Nana, my stepmother’s mother, was an amazing woman.  Hands down, the absolute best.  I couldn’t, nor would I ever, say a bad thing about this woman.  When Nana came to visit, she would ask everyone what their favorite meal and/or dessert was, and then she would make it for you.  Whenever I’ve talked about Nana in recent years, I’ve joked that when Nana came to town, everyone in the house would gain about five pounds.  I used to spend hours in the kitchen with her as she baked dozens of cookies, and she would talk about whatever you wanted.  Nana was silly and joked about silly things, calling her bra “an over the shoulder boulder holder.”  Nana would also listen to you, and you always knew she cared.

The thing I loved most about Nana was that I never felt like a step-granddaughter to her, just family.  She made me feel included and important.  When she passed away, the world lost a wonderful light.  Whenever I bake cookies or cupcakes in my kitchen, I think back to the time I spent with her in the kitchen.  I like to think she’s in the kitchen with me, smiling and telling stories.

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I am very proud of the fact that I come from a line of strong and loyal women, like Grandma and Granny.  I also feel blessed that Nana considered me a part of her family.   Like I feel about my mother, I hope that I am making these three amazing women proud.