Today would have been Grandma’s birthday if she were still alive. I’m not sure how old she would have been, but I remember her 90th birthday celebration during the earlier part of this century. It may have been the summer after my mother passed away in 1999.
We rented the Historic Sheridan Inn, and relatives from Colorado, California, and Utah converged on our town in Wyoming. We also invited many friends who lived in the area. The party included food, live music, and of course picture taking and lasted well into the night. The next day, my uncle and aunt hosted a barbecue at their home. It was a great two-day bash and Grandma’s last big birthday celebration.
In 1973, my family moved here to Sheridan so my father could take over the family’s coin-operated machine business after my grandfather died. For a couple of months until we found a home of our own, we stayed with Grandma. I enjoyed sleeping with her in her double bed and waking up in the morning to her radio. I was twelve at the time, and the local talk program bored me. I once asked her why she listened to the news, and she said she liked to know what was going on in the world. Her attention to current events rubbed off on me. Now, when I wake up in the morning, I tune my radio to NPR so I can hear state and national news.
Grandma became a fixture in our lives when we moved to Sheridan. We visited her often, and my brother and I occasionally spent the night with her. She gave us our favorite foods: macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers. I loved her potato salad and Boston cream pie. She rarely made a fuss when we yelled at each other or made a mess. Dad once told us that when he was a boy, she made him eat everything on his plate, but she never did that with us. She seemed to enjoy making her grandchildren happy.
Grandma’s back yard had a swing set that brought us hours of pleasure along with the jukeboxes and games Dad kept in the shop that he would later distribute to restaurants, bars, and other establishments. There was also a picnic table, a glider, and several comfortable canvas chairs. When out of town relatives visited, we congregated there for a barbecue. A jukebox was rolled out of the shop for entertainment, and after eating, we kids danced and listened to the music while the adults talked and drank, and Grandma talked and drank right along with them.
Grandma wasn’t fazed by my visual impairment and supported me in my endeavors. My grandfather was a musician so she liked the idea of me being a singer. When I was in high school, she bought me a guitar and arranged for me to take lessons. When I sang and accompanied myself on the guitar or piano or performed with a choir, she always said the music was beautiful.
When I decided to study music therapy in college and work with senior citizens, she was all for it. After completing a six-month music therapy internship in Fargo, North Dakota, I moved back to Sheridan and found an apartment and a job in a nursing home. Since the apartment had no washer or dryer, I often went to a Laundromat a block from Grandma’s house and visited her. She seemed to enjoy hearing about the music and other activities I did at the nursing home and even had ideas.
Once after I received a written reprimand from a supervisor who claimed she couldn’t work with my visual impairment, I showed Grandma the paper. She took one look at it and said, “Hey! Who is this bitch?” She rarely used colorful words and admonished us when we were kids not to use them so it was all I could do to keep from laughing, but I had to fight back tears as well because those words illustrated her undying love.
Grandma also didn’t like it when words were used incorrectly. Her biggest pet peeve was saying a particular food was healthy instead of healthful. Fortunately, she never saw me buy Healthy Choice frozen dinners at the grocery store.
When my late husband Bill proposed to me in 2005, Grandma was skeptical, especially since I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry him. To make a long story short, in three months, I changed my mind, and she was behind me all the way, remarking that he had it bad for me. She also supported my decision to quit my day job and write full time. My wedding was held in her back yard.
Grandma died in January of 2006 after being hospitalized with pneumonia. At the same time, Bill suffered his second stroke, and he was already partially paralyzed as a result of his first. I regret not spending more time with Grandma in her last hours, but I think she would have understood if she were aware of what was going on around her. AT her graveside service, another big family event that took place in July around the time of her birthday, I sang “Amazing Grace” with no accompaniment of any kind. To hear me sing the song the way I did back then, go to https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/amazing%20grace.mp3 .
What do you remember about your grandmother?
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
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