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Posts Tagged ‘Grandma Jo’

lyla on trackDear Lyla,
One of the things that I love most about you is your unconditional acceptance of everyone you meet. It seems that you never meet a stranger and your heart is an ever-expanding space. Such unbridled acceptance comes with it a willingness to suspend your disbelief and embrace wild tales. Daddy finds your enthusiasm for a well-spun tale both delightful and disturbing; to this end he has tried to teach you the art of sarcasm and debate at a tender age. When I was young I too was more apt to believe someone than to question his or her motives; your Bumpa warned me that my gullibility would not end well. Unfortunately for me, your Bumpa was somewhat of a soothsayer in this regard. I would fall for the same line over and over again; always disappointed that things did not end differently. Sometimes my willingness to buy a story was based on fear. I recall one summer in particular when your Aunt Patti targeted my squeamishness for her own personal gain. She and I would always have chocolate milk at night in the table in front of the window, which Grandma Jo kept open to cool the living room down. When I wasn’t looking Patti would hit her knuckles (so I was told when I was older) on the underside of the table and declare, “A frog just jumped through the window and landed in your milk!” I would bring my gaze back to my glass, which would still be rippling from the hard knock to the wooden table. Horrified I refused to drink my milk. Patti would bate me and dare me to drink the frog-flavored concoction. In my resolution I would shove the glass at her demanding that she drink it if she was so brave; which she did, deliberately, slowly and dramatically. As you might have guessed, there was no amphibian to be found at the bottom of the glass. We repeated this one act play many times over the summer until at last Grandma Jo intervened on my behalf. Bumpa used to tease me about being gullible and warned me that it would some day be my downfall. In some ways Bumpa was right, I can be too trusting and ignore the ache in my gut that signals a warning. On the other hand, if we become too cynical we may lose our ability to show empathy to others. I choose not to live in a world where there aren’t second chances; I suppose the price for that is a level of vulnerability. My hope for you Little One is that you maintain your ability to accept others for who they are and that you have the wisdom to know when it is time to give someone an opportunity for redemption.  Keep that heart of yours open Little One; someone, somewhere will need it some day.

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I Want My Mommy

lyla grandmaDear Lyla,

Today’s letter will be very short as I am feeling, as Bumpa would say, sicker than a dog that has eaten a chocolate bar. All I want to do today is sleep on the couch curled up in a blanket, dog behind my knees with the TV making noise in the background; today I want my Mommy. If Grandma were here she would make me some soup and bring me liquids to drink and I wouldn’t have a care in the world because mom’s make it all feel better if you are sick. But Grandma Jo isn’t here and I have to work because the thought of canceling class makes me feel worse. My hope for you Little One is that when you are older you will feel the same say about me that I feel about my mom. I guess you are never too old to want the familiar comfort of your parents; life lesson learned!

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Lyla & MommyDear Lyla,

In my last letter I introduced you to my childhood friend Granny Bailey. While Granny was special to our family there were many others at the nursing home that we looked forward to visiting on a regular basis. Bumpa struck up friendships with many of the residents that lived at the facility opposite the shore of the lake on which we lived. What a beautiful view at that nursing home; one could watch the soothing roll of the lake all day long if so inclined. Bumpa soon realized that although, the panorama was spectacular, many of its inhabitants lived incredibly solitary lives. Too many souls had no family to speak of and unfortunately even more had absentee family members. It is a sad reality little one that the aged in our culture are often overlooked or discarded; a judgment that somehow they had outlived their usefulness and had nothing more to offer. Bumpa would categorically deny such a fallacious conclusion, he would argue that the stories they have to tell are a rich bounty deserving of our respect and admiration. Many who knew Bumpa and Grandma Jo would characterize him as dynamic and assertive and Grandma as nurturing and stable; these assessments are both correct. However, your Grandma is a tiger little one and your Bumpa was all mush on the inside. Together Bumpa and Grandma knew that once introduced to these sage and interesting individuals it was an impossibility to forget their existence; to ignore the need for human interaction would be the unkindest cut of all. That winter Bumpa and Grandma began a holiday tradition that lasted until after I had left for college. Beginning in November Grandma would rally the troops to make dozens upon dozens of cut out sugar cookies; when December arrived an assembly line at the kitchen table was established to decorate the cookies. It was a sight to see; the family covered in frosting of bright Christmas colors and sprinkles everywhere! A week before Christmas all of the cookies had been adorned and it was time to make old fashioned fudge; Patti and I frequently fought over who got to lick the spoon. On December 23rd, as there was no school, Grandma, Patti and I would begin to assemble individual goodie packages; it took all day long. Grandma always made it a fun experience; there would be hot cocoa, Christmas music and lots of laughs. Bumpa, normally an imposing and larger than life character, became almost childlike; he was more likely to steal cookies and fudge than Patti and me. Those Christmases when it snowed lightly during these preparations were my favorite, it was almost like a blessing from heaven; an acknowledgment of our holiday offerings. On Christmas Eve day we would sleep in and lounge in our PJs as long as possible; it would be a long night. That evening we would get dressed up in our holiday best and head to church. To me candlelight services are always special and magical; but when I was younger singing the last strains of “Silent Night” meant that our Christmas Eve had just begun. Having loaded up the goodies prior to church meant we would only have to go back to the house to pick up one item before heading out on our appointment rounds; the dog. Our dog Mutley played prominently in our plans for holiday merriment. Dressed in a red and green sweater, resplendent with tinkling bells, Mutley would lead our family through the front doors of the nursing home; this is when our Christmas Eve really began! We went from room to room giving each resident a pack full of goodies; Grandma even made sure there were special sugar free treats for those with diabetes and a huge plate of holiday cheer for the staff. I loved this part of our Christmas tradition; how fabulous to have that many surrogate grandparents. Endless hugs and kisses were offered as gifts in kind. Sometimes a resident would break out in song, so what else were we to do but join in! These were magical nights for our family, how blessed we were to be so loved and welcomed on one of the most special eves of the year. As we made our way through the facility to head home Bumpa and I would stop one last time to see Granny Bailey. As I got older I understood the pain of what it meant to have no family left to care for or about our elderly friends and I was in a melancholy state by the time I reached Granny’s room. Granny immediately sensed I was in distress and so I shared my grief with her; she smiled, patted my hand and said “Dear, you are their family.” She was right little one; when you give of yourself to others the love you share will find its way back, in spades.

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Lyla RainDear Lyla,

It has long been my policy that the word family is fairly broad term. It can be used to describe the people that you are related to; happy accidents of fate that result in shared DNA. Family can also denote those you chose to embrace and care for regardless of blood bonds. Lucky are the families that are diverse and numerous in their membership. Your Grandma Jo would say that ever since I was little I brought home strays; dogs, ducks, turtles, chipmunks and people. She would joke that I never met anyone that I didn’t like or see a problem that I felt I couldn’t fix. While there may be some truth to that, I learned my compassion for others from my parents. I can scarcely remember a holiday where there was not seated at the family table a neighbor or acquaintance that had no family to claim them; and so they became part of our family. I learned to “collect” people from your Bumpa; he could find the unique and special qualities in almost everyone he met, conversation flowed easily from his lips. Bumpa especially liked to chat with those from an older generation; he loved their stories and was eager to soak up their knowledge and wisdom. One winter he was doing renovation on a nursing home in the area and met an elderly woman who had been blind for years. Apparently one day she called out to him to “come and sit a spell”; she offered the invitation because liked the sound of his voice. Never one to shun a compliment, Bumpa began to spend his lunches with this elderly sage; her name was Granny Bailey. On the weekends Aunt Patti and I would frequently help Bumpa at construction work sites  cleaning up debris or painting. It was during one of these mandatory work details that I met Granny Bailey. She knew who I was without being introduced; she knew by my cadence and incessant magpie-like talking that I must be Bumpa’s daughter. Granny Bailey summoned me to her room to sit and “chew the fat”; she wanted to know all about my friends, the music programs at school, my family and any subject you would expect your grandma to want to be kept abreast. In hindsight, I suspect that Granny didn’t have any family to speak of and she adopted us as her own. Long after the renovation was done we continued to visit Granny Bailey.  Bumpa tried to coax her into coming to our house for holidays but she did not want to leave the familiarity of the nursing home and so we went to her. In high school I read the daily news announcements for a local radio station; Granny tuned in every day to hear what her adopted kin would have to tell the community about the comings and goings of the town. The details of Granny’s face are muted in my memory but the feel of her warm, frail hands clutching mine as we would talk is still fresh in my mind. Granny Bailey was someone that would hear all of my troubles without judgment or sanction; at times during my turbulent teens she served as a port in the storm. When I could drive I would regularly visit Granny.  I am not sure if Bumpa or Grandma Jo knew about our extended visits; I did not apprise them of my outings to see Granny because time with her was a private and special just between us. Granny Bailey has long since gone to heaven little one, but I miss her. What I wouldn’t give for just one more visit to tell Granny how special she was and how lucky we were to call her family.

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Dear Lyla,

Thanksgiving Day is almost here and tonight your three “boy” cousins will arrive from Minnesota to spend the holiday weekend with you. I hope very much that this will be a memorable holiday for you, one that you look upon fondly and remember often.  In honor of the three musketeers that will join us this November for feast and festivity, today’s story is about their mother. I must say that my sister and I have many holiday tales that we could share with you and your cousins and they usually involve mischief and mayhem; most often at Grandma Jo’s expense. But today your Aunt Patti is the offering on the altar of humility in this holiday musing and it all begins with a tantrum and a turkey. As you know your Grandma Jo is an excellent cook and, for her, holiday dinners were serious business. There would be a fine lace tablecloth, cloth napkins, crystal wine glasses and great-grandma’s silver to adorn our humble table. There was a ritual to these feasts; we would begin the day sneaking olives off the relish tray (one for each finger of course) and end by sneaking extra helpings of whipped cream for the homemade pumpkin pie. These meals were full of laughter, mirth and the occasional under the table goodie for the dog; if you were to describe the scene at our table it would closely resemble a scene drawn by Norman Rockwell. For us holidays were a time of relative peace and harmony; we ate, we played games and we teased each other good naturedly. It is likely due to the nostalgia that my sister felt for the holidays that the “great turkey debacle” came to be. I was in graduate school and was coming home for Thanksgiving and just assumed that Grandma Jo would be hosting as per usual; I learned in an animated phone call to my mom that plans had changed. Patti was bound and determined that she was going to cook the Thanksgiving meal and like it or not we were all ordered to come and have a good time. As soon as we stepped in the door I should have recognized the stench of impending doom. Patti was in a tizzy rushing to put the final touches on the noon meal. Grandma Jo, an excellent judge of cooking times and multi-tasker extraordinaire, recognized a disaster when she saw it. She graciously offered to help with the final prep work; determined that she could handle the task herself, Patti declined the offer. In a final flurry of activity, and a few glasses of wine later, it was announced that we were about to eat. As we sat down to eat we began with a simple table blessing (historically the youngest at the table says the blessing and my niece Kaila was not old enough to say it yet so the job fell to me) and then proceeded to survey the spread before us. We were treated to burnt rolls, lumpy gravy, partially mashed potatoes and a runny substance that I am led to believe was pureed yams. However, the turkey looked amazing! It was beautiful, brown and smelled amazing; we were in for a treat. Our hopes for an edible morsel from Patti’s table were quickly dashed when Bumpa cut into the turkey. In her quest to replicate the Rockwellian perfection from her childhood, she had neglected to clean the bird prior to cooking it. You can imagine the gory site once the turkey had been sliced open; all of the innards had liquefied making the turkey quite unpalatable.  One glance at Patti told me she was ready to come unhinged should anyone make a derogatory comment about her culinary talents. Grandma Jo, ever the peacemaker, declared that we could simply eat around the innards since that part looked fabulous. Bumpa, on the other hand, was not about to let Patti off the hook. Bumpa laughed; he laughed long at hard until his face was purple and it was questionable whether oxygen was flowing to his brain. Little one there is something you need to know about Bumpa’s laughter, it was contagious! I started laughing, Grandma Jo starting laughing and, yes, Patti began to chuckle. It would have seemed to any outsider that we had lost our ever loving minds, and maybe we had. Maybe we were so focused on achieving a sense of idyllic perfection that we had lost perspective; Bumpa brought us back to reality. You see little one, Bumpa didn’t laugh to make Patti feel bad; quite the opposite. Bumpa was letting Patti know that it is ok to make mistakes; if you can laugh and learn at the same time, things will probably turn out just fine. This Thanksgiving I hope that there is plenty of laughter at our table, that we live in the moment and enjoy one another for who we are and not some version of what we think we should be.

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Dear Lyla,

I have mentioned before that your daddy and I met when we were in graduate school; we had our first date in November (on your Grandpa Dwight’s birthday). We went to Olive Garden to eat and we went “dutch,” which means we each pay half; although your daddy was short on cash so I had to pick up the majority of the tab (The events of our first date really have nothing to do with the following story but I have never let daddy forget that I had to pay on the first date and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it again here).  The fall semester that I met daddy was a busy one as it was my first semester in graduate school. Since we had only been dating for a little while when the holidays rolled around I went back to Minnesota for Christmas to see Grandma Jo  and Bumpa; daddy stayed behind to be with his family at Great-grandma Evelyn’s farm. When I got back to school life was so busy that I was not able to go back North again until the Fourth of July holiday during the summer; daddy was to go with me. I was nervous because Bumpa had never liked any boy I had brought home (in retrospect he was probably spot on with his assessment of these gentlemen).  Grandma Jo had already met daddy earlier in the spring when she came down to visit; daddy had long hair at the time and your grandma was not having it! She made up her mind then and there that she did not like daddy. You have to understand that this is a point that grandma denies vehemently now; she says she always thought daddy was a fine young man. Sometimes little one  history is subjective and in some cases, revisionist. Your daddy and I drove over thirteen hours north that summer to spend a few days with Bumpa and Grandma Jo. I will never forget the first night daddy visited Minnesota. That night we sat around an old, round oak table that had been in our family for as long as I can remember. Coffee was the drink of choice, as it can still get quite chilly at night that far north if the windows are left open, and conversation was finally starting to flow. You see, daddy can be a bit reserved and shy if he doesn’t know people very well. He would argue that he is waiting to assess whether someone is worth getting to know, I argue he is an introvert (both assertions have merit). Let me preface the rest of the story by stating that, as daddy was about to sit down at the table my sister Patti jumped up and told him to take her chair, as it was one of the wide wooden chairs with rollers. My sister can have a wicked streak in her as she meets out her own tests of suitability;  for her resiliency and a sense of humor are a litmus test. Daddy was finally starting to get comfortable talking to Bumpa and they started to chat about Great-grandma Evelyn and Great-grandpa Raymond’s farm. Quite suddenly all four legs of the wooden chair went out from under daddy.  The next thing I know daddy’s eyes are as wide as saucers and his face was as red as Santa’s suit. I was concerned that he had hurt himself, until I heard my sister laughing. She was laughing so hard tears were streaming down her face and she couldn’t breathe. Then it dawned on me; she had given him the chair on purpose. On closer inspection of the chair, I noticed she had given him the “trick” chair. The spools on this particular chair had come apart so many times no one could keep count. It did not matter if you were big, small, short or tall; the spools on the chair would gradually separate over time and it was just a matter of bad timing for the person who would be its next victim. This Patti knew, this Patti understood and this Patti planned. For his part, daddy passed the test. He got up, dusted himself off and the conversation went right on along. I could have been mad at my sister for inflicting her brand of social acceptance on daddy, and perhaps I should have, but truth be told; I don’t think I was. I think it was Patti’s way of protecting her little sister and making sure this new addition to our family had the chops it took to hang out with the Pier clan. So little one, in a way I am grateful. It showed me early on in my relationship with your daddy that he was someone to trust, someone who was patient and most importantly someone who can laugh at himself. We are lucky to have daddy. You and I are a lot alike and it is going to take daddy a great deal of patience and humor to deal with the two of us over the years; let’s thank our lucky stars that daddy has already proven he is up to the task.

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Dear Lyla,

Yesterday was November 11, and it was Veteran’s Day. On this day we take time to remember all of those who served our nation in the armed forces; it is a way of saying thank you to those in the military who are called upon to make sacrifices in order to protect our freedoms. There are many in our family who have served in the military.  Grandma Jo’s mommy and daddy were both in the Army during World War II; and your Bumpa was named  after his Uncle EuGene who was also serving in World War II at the time and wanted a namesake should he not return from the battlefield.  For many to serve one’s country is a calling and I think your Bumpa felt an obligation to serve when he was a young man. But for Bumpa it was not to be; according to family lore, he did not pass his hearing test on the day of his physical exam and was excluded from joining up. We never talked about the military much as I was growing up, except for the summer that Grandpa Henwood came to stay and he would swap war stories with an old man named Pappy Yokum that lived up the road. Although it was not a common topic of conversation, my sister and I did understand that those who served our country deserved our deference and respect.  It came to pass one Christmas that this idea of reverence for those in uniform manifested itself on a road trip to Missouri. I must have been ten or eleven the year that Grandma Jo and Bumpa decided that we would spend Christmas with their friends Charles and Norma in Missouri. We set out for Missouri a few days before Christmas as it took well over twelve hours to get there from Minnesota. I remember that the weather was horrible; it was either sleeting or snowing during the entire trip. Many times we would have to pull over to a gas station to clear road salt and dirt from the headlamps and to refill the washer fluid. It was during one of these stops that my father engaged in what I considered to be the most peculiar behavior; he picked up a hitchhiker. You have to understand this was completely out of character for Bumpa; never in a million years would I have predicted such an act. As Bumpa and the stranger got closer to the car, I noticed that the young man who was to be our new companion was wearing military fatigues. I must admit that at age ten camouflage of any kind was a bit scary (it wasn’t as commonly integrated into fashion and pop culture as it is now). Bumpa instructed Grandma Jo to get into the back seat with Patti and me. As the snow continued to beat down on our car as we traveled south, the conversation in the front seat was lively and quick. The young man had flown in on leave and was trying to get to his folks before Christmas. His parents were poor and he had no extra money for transportation, he was relying on the kindness of strangers to get him home for the holidays. It was amazing how at ease my father felt with this young solider; how quickly they fell into comfortable conversation. After a few hours it was time for the young man to change direction again and so my father pulled off at a truck stop that would get him on the interstate that would lead him home. Bumpa gave the young gentleman money for food (I am not sure if grandma was aware of that but I saw my father reach for his wallet when we stopped) and made sure that there was a trucker willing to give him a lift most of the way home.  As we got back on the road, Grandma Jo at the wheel and Bumpa in the passenger’s seat, she asked him what possessed him to do such a thing. Bumpa replied that he had overheard the kid talking to an elderly farm couple who had just driven two hours out of their way to help him out so it couldn’t be that dangerous.  Furthermore, he argued,  if there was trouble grandma was sitting behind the solider in the back seat poised to bonk him over the head with her high heeled shoe! Bumpa had a way of teasing and joking his way through questions and situations that forced him to confront his emotions. If truth be told, I think grandpa was touched by the kid’s story; a young man out of basic training, missing his folks something fierce and doing anything it took to get home. I am not sure of the soldier’s fate, whether he made it home in time for Christmas; I want to believe that he did. I like to think that perhaps he is out there somewhere, telling his children or grandchildren on this day of remembrance about the time when he felt the kindred embrace of his fellow Americans and what it meant to him and his family all those years ago.

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