Sometimes the memories that bless us the longest begin as small episodes. Every Mother’s Day I am reminded of one small moment that still heartens me.
Our young son Dan ran a fever, had chills, and dozed a lot that day. He missed church and a soccer game. But that’s not why I remember the day.
My mother and sister came for Mother’s Day dinner. My husband’s mother, also. Three generations, but that isn’t why either.
Grandma Leora Wilson also came. She is the reason I remember.
This snowy-haired grandma was 96 then and not quite five feet tall. She didn’t hear so well anymore, she tired more easily, and her quick steps had slowed a little.
But Grandma still had a lively laugh, her eyes–dark with tawny flecks in them–would light up when she got tickled about something, which she did that day.
She still lived alone in her Guthrie Center home, where I’d gone to visit her through four decades. When I was in grade school, I spent some of my summer vacation there on North Fourth Street, where she also made a home then for her own elderly mother.
In one corner of Grandma’s bedroom in the small white house stood a chest of drawers with photos of her family on it–two daughters and five sons. I would sometimes slip in to look at those five boys in their uniforms, especially the three who never came home.
Because of the hardships and heartaches in her life, Grandma could have been a sad and bitter soul. Instead, she was active in her town, church, and neighborhood. And a treasure of a grandmother.
She bought me my first strawberry soda (which she called a “sodie”) in downtown Guthrie, taught me to crochet, attended my piano recitals and graduation. She wrote me letters in college and watched me get married. Grandma sent us letters in Idaho, where the Air Force sent my new husband, and to my husband when he served in Vietnam. She even came to Colorado with my parents to see my new baby son.
Late one fall, after my family returned to Iowa, Mom and I drove up to Guthrie Center to visit with her. Grandma was in her 90s then and wanted help picking out Christmas gifts for family members, especially her nine grandchildren.
I remembered all the lace doilies she’d made, and her teaching me to crochet when I was a girl.
“Something I’d enjoy is a piece of your crocheting,” I suggested.
“Really?” Her eyes brightened.
“Grandma, I’d love one.”
Christmas day I unwrapped a “Home Sweet Home” antimacassar. Grandma’s eyes danced at my delight.
Later, Mom remembered that she had a small rectangular tablecloth that Grandma had made. It was tucked in a drawer, so she passed it on to me. What a lovely labyrinth of threads, forming roses in the lace, but it didn’t fit any table in the house.
I also stored in a drawer.
But when I learned that Grandma could come to my house that Mother’s Day, I decided to try to use her fancywork somehow.
I don’t remember what we ate that day, but I do remember the table. Grandma’s ecru lace was arranged over a plain rose-colored cloth. Then set with dishes like my mother’s, Desert Rose, remindful of the wild roses in the ditches near the farm where I grew up.
We all sat around the table, Grandma to my right. My husband asked the blessing on us all.
Then Grandma’s soft white hairdo leaned jauntily toward me. With a glint in her eyes, she asked, “Do I recognize something?”
Lump in throat.
Lace and pink roses will always remind me of that precious four generations Mother’s Day.
It turned out to be Grandma’s last. Her pleasure that I had used that handmade masterpiece still cheers my soul.
This was written in 1995. Now my husband’s mother is 96, the age that Grandma Wilson was that day. And that young son is married and they have a three-year-old daughter.
The only thing better than an heirloom is an heirloom with a story. – Joy Neal Kidney
Published in 2019: Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II (with Robin Grunder)
Published in 2021: Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression