I am no Princess.
There is no Prince Charming.
Buxom Barbie lives in memories,
With her ever smiling Ken.
Life jackets, my companions,
While we navigate rough waters.
On the hunt for one more storm cloud,
As the thunder rolls on in.
But I’ll remain my lifeguard.
Grabbing strength from every raindrop.
Knowing storms will yet surrender,
Just because they always do.
Then sun will bake the sand with warmth.
And I will build my castle tall.
A place of peace and joy within.
Where I will reign as Queen.
She chooses a red velveteen dress and matching sequined shoes this 4th of July morning.
Picture perfect to match a fresh feline face painting.
I choose my old straw hat and sensible shoes to wear with fading cotton shorts and a tee.
Together my granddaughter and I stand ready to catch flying pancakes at the annual breakfast by the old train station.
I catch both of mine.
She misses both of hers.
The chef places another pair directly on her plate, smiling.
I credit my successful catch on my shoes.
But somedays I wish I wasn’t so sensible.
Then I’d wear red velvet dresses too, and frame my face with paintings.
But I’d choose pirates for strength, in my masterpieces.
Just like my grandson.
I like the idea of strong women in red velvet.
Be it baiting fishing hooks in Minnesota, walking past roving eyed cowboys in Wyoming,
camping in the mountains of Colorado, or looking for rocks in Utah, this woman had my back.
So I was a little concerned when I first saw the quizzical expression in the photo from my wedding day.
“Doesn’t Grandma like Richard?” I asked Mom when I saw the picture of her looking up at my husband and me.
“Oh absolutely! She particularly likes that he’s such a smart guy”.
Whew. I was relieved. He’d passed the test.
And I quickly discovered Grandma shared my husband’s passion for art. I was reminded of that this week as I stumbled across a package of old prints of Grandma’s sandwiched between some heavy art books.
Grandma had used the collection in her old schoolroom, teaching a little art history between spelling and reading back in the 1930s. From the order form inside, it looks like she’d opted for the “2 cents a print” size.
Thinking about Grandma and her appreciation of art, I remembered just how many other varied interests she’d had and kept through out her life: Road trips, weaving, crocheting, cooking, volunteering, spending time in nature, and collecting all those rocks.
And she always made it a point to share her passions with others.
It was another way of looking out for us and “broadening our horizons”.
Her zest for life wasn’t slowed much by the aging process. It seemed Grandma just had a knack for reinventing herself. Driving back and forth to California from the Midwest in an old VW van or camper truck so she could keep teaching migrant children into her 70s. Traveling internationally on new adventures many times. And living in three other states after leaving her hometown, always keeping herself busy and very active.
I wonder if staying engaged with all those passions and having such a caring nature helped nudge Grandma into her 90s before she passed away?
I was thinking about that this week when the phone rang. The caller was the 99 year old minister who had married Richard and me 27 years ago A renaissance man himself, he worked well into his 80s. And he is passionate about art and helping people.
Turns out he was calling to check up on me.
Maybe there’s something to my theory after all.
I’ll be the first to admit this decade has been far from my favorite. Overlapping responsibilities of caring for four generations simultaneously some years, while working full time can wear any girl down. Yet many days, I’ve been blessed with a beautiful gift. A surprise. And today was one of them.
With my morning mug of coffee, I read something my 24 year old daughter Nicole posted last night about her tumultuous teen years. She first moved to America and joined our family 12 years ago from Russia.
Becoming part of a new family and a new country isn’t easy. It becomes even harder when you make that change as an adolescent who didn’t start school in Russia until the third grade.
Nicole immediately found it challenging here dealing with peer pressure, while learning a new language. Dealing with parents again, after being in an orphanage for 6 years couldn’t have been simple for her either. And seeing my husband’s increasing memory loss only further complicated the other issues for her.
By the time Nicole settled deeper into the teen years, I was finding items under the mattress no parent wants to discover. There were nights of missed curfews, a couple of climbs out the bedroom window, and other memories that still make my hair gray just thinking about them.
Yet my daughter survived and has matured. She is a great mother to my little grandkids. And she’s developed into a strong, authentic writer in a language she’s only known for 12 years.
Last night as Nicole wrote about these years, she thanked her Dad and I, as well as a few others who’ve helped her along the way.
“Without you guys, I would have been one lost soul” she typed.
But I’m thinking I would have been one lost soul without Nicole.
While looking at a Halloween display of a grandmother driving her grandaughter, I got to thinking about entering my teen years. In my house that meant you were ready for a special rite of passage. It was your turn to take a once in a lifetime road trip with Grandma Esther.
I’m not talking about a a 30 minute ride through sweet smelling apple orchards to Aunt Bee’s house. I’m talking about riding shotgun for 2000 miles from rural Minnesota to California in a camper truck. And the camper was an upgrade. Prior to its purchase, Grandma owned a classic ’60s VW van.
I’d already had a short practice trip in Wyoming with Grandma, while she still had the VW. I slept in an army green pup tent on top of the van. I was pretty thrilled to have my own special space since I’d always shared a room and I knew Grandma was known to snore some. I was excited, too, knowing I’d be able to brag to friends back home about how cool it was sleeping under the stars in the mountains. But I thought I’d skip the part about how terrified I was of potential bears and elk on the ground below. And that I hid out in a fetal position in my sleeping bag, after zipping the tent up extra tight. No, that was my little secret. I didn’t even tell Grandma.
Now, having had my traveling initiation, I was ready for the California trip. Grandma was soon busy finalizing the game plan. She ‘interviewed’ me first before settling on the detailed itinerary. She wanted to take me places I hadn’t been before, so she quickly scratched off Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug, replacing it with a trip to the Morman Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City.
“Have you ever been to the Sequoia National Forest, or Reno?,” she asked. As I shook my head no, she added both to the list as well.
Grandma next taught me her own special rules of the road.
First, the classic wave. It was only to be shared with those she perceived as friendly fellow travelers. She’d raise her left hand to her chin, and hold her palm open, keeping her fingers straight. I soon followed suit, noticing Grandma’s wave wasn’t quite as prevalent around young male drivers with shoulder length hair.
Her second rule related to cars backed up behind her as the over packed camper started to drag while climbing altitude. “When you hit half a dozen autos behind, you pull over and wave everybody by,” she told me. I soon learned for this scenario, Grandma would make an exception and wave at all ages and hair styles.
I admit I became nervous one night when Grandma wasn’t feeling well, knowing I didn’t know how to drive and had no idea where we were, but Grandma recovered by the next morning. And we were both uncomfortable another day making a pit stop next to some cranky cowboys coming out of the bar in a town where the posted sign said “population five”. But overall, our trip went well.
As a tempermental teen, I initially wasn’t too excited about the prospect of visiting Salt Lake, Reno and the Sequoias. But besides accomplishing her goal of arriving in Fresno where she’d teach migrant children for the year, Grandma accomplished a secondary goal. And that was introducing me to the beauty of choral music, the evils of slot machines, and the magnificence of nature. I acted as a good student for all three lessons.
When I returned home from California and realized none of my friends took trips like this with their grandmothers, I learned one more thing. Just how special and blessed I was to have Grandma Esther in my life.
I don’t just want to be what they call ‘Minnesota nice’ anymore. (Though I told someone yesterday, Minnesota drivers aren’t very nice at all).
I’m so lacking in attitude I’ve never even sent food back to a restaurant kitchen, but had plenty of opportunities. Instead I’ll come down with food poisoning, and take it in the gut like a wimp. Finally playing the fool in the bathroom, sick for days.
If I had attitude I’d be first in line for the hottest tech toy at the annual After Thanksgiving Sale. And I’d have kept my daughter more in line as a teenager.
If I had attitude I’d be a better advocate for my husband’s health care needs. I’d even be a better advocate for me.
But I’ve been told the only good thing about my advocacy skills is believability. I don’t want to be believable. I want to be demanding, outrageous, and screaming attitude at the top of my lungs.
I do wonder though if this may be too much of a stretch for an old girl like me. I need to be realistic. Maybe I’ll just put ‘become a strong woman’ on my development plan for the rest of this year. I suppose it’s always good to keep friends and not annoy co-workers. I’ll see how it goes.
Then maybe next year?