Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Memories of Grandma.

As I did after the passing of my grandpa and my Grandma Clark last year, I've jotted down some thoughts and memories about my sweet Grandma, Martha Martin.

My grandma was born on her mother's birthday in May 1920 in rural Mahoning County, Ohio. She was the youngest of four children. She told me once that her mother suffered from poor health for the rest of her life after Grandma's birth, and that she always felt responsible for that. Grandma's aunt Mary lived with the family and helped out with the children and the chores to take some of the burden off Great-Grandma, who passed away when Grandma was 18 years old.

Grandma grew up on a farm, and her father sold produce and milk to help support the family. She liked to read her father's old McGuffey readers, and one of her favorite teachers gave her a book of Bible stories and a copy of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. She loved to read and play house in the corncrib when it was empty in the spring.

Grandma attended a country school until eighth grade, and wanted to go to high school very much. She loved school, especially spelling and history, and couldn't understand why all her friends moaned about school starting every fall. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and she was the class valedictorian.

She married my grandpa when she was twenty-two, and they moved into a house right up the road from the house Grandma grew up in. She lived in that house for the next 65 years (and lived on the same road all her life!) Over the next 17 years, from 1943 to 1960, she gave birth to three sons and five daughters.

Grandma took care of children all her life--first her own kids, and then all the grandkids who ran in and out of her house over the years. My family lived in Missouri till I was six, and I remember coming to Ohio on visits and staying at Grandma's house. She made me pancakes in the mornings, and I played in her vegetable garden. I remember running in and out of the staked pea plants that towered over my head.

Grandma was a devoted gardener--out of necessity for many years, of course, when the family depended on everything they could grow and can and freeze themselves. But even into her eighties, she was still putting in a garden in the spring and putting up the produce all summer long. The apricot jam she made from the trees in their orchard was my very favorite.

She quilted and sewed all her life, both for her family and for the church relief organizations. Her stitches were in quilts and comforters that warmed her own family, and that were sent all over the world to warm others in need. She made most of her own clothes for many years.

I remember her making me handkerchief babies in church when I was little, which I'm sure was something she did for her own children, and probably something her mother did for her. She always had a flowered hanky in her purse. She would roll the hanky on one side and then on the other and turn it around somehow and then there were two tiny babies in a hammock.

She wrote poetry--some serious, thoughtful verses about her faith and family, and some quietly funny poems about dead dogs, prowling skunks, old age, and other quirky topics. She had a self-deprecating sense of humor, always quick to laugh at her own idiosyncrasies. She was frugal from years of pinching pennies, and she knew how to live on just what she needed and no more.

Grandma was a truly good person through and through. She had limitless patience. (At least, in the years I knew her...as a young mother her patience may have been in shorter supply!) I never heard her say a bad word about another person. She always seemed to look for the good in people. She cared about doing the right thing and making the right choices. She had empathy for others and treated others according to the Golden Rule. I have often thought to myself over the years that if my conscience had a voice, it would be Grandma's voice.

In the past few years, Grandma slowly slipped away, a little at a time. She had a couple of bad falls and used first a walker and then a wheelchair. Her memory started to fade--she still knew her children, but the names of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren became more elusive. It broke my heart a little bit the first time I visited her and had to remind her who I was. But the sweetness of her personality never faded at all. She never complained, never put up a fuss about the difficulties of life in a nursing home.

Grandma loved God with all her heart and soul and mind. She prayed for everyone in her family all her life. She read her Bible every night before bed. She was sitting in her chair reading her Bible when she passed away, as appropriate a death for Grandma as any of us could have imagined.

My cousin Pam and I were talking at Grandma's grave, about how challenging it will be to live up to the example Grandma set for us. I have a very different personality from Grandma...I have always been a cranky, cynical person and I probably always will be. But she and I were both deep thinkers. We both loved to write and read. I inherited her empathic nature, which she passed to my mother, who passed it to me. I inherited her wonder about the ways of God and the spiritual world. I can only hope to be as truly good and truly loving as she was all her life.