Inspired By Grandma

Unfortunately on Sunday February 2nd of this year, we had to say goodbye to my Grandma. She had lived a long, beautiful life. She was 93 years old, and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, so it was bitter sweet to say goodbye. Grandma was basically like another mother to me. My grandparents lived 10 minutes from our house, so we spent a lot of time over there. Before my Grandma was a mother or grandmother, she was a teacher. Even after she retired, she continued to “teach” us. I wanted to write about my Grandmother to honor her. Tomorrow I will be saying my last goodbye at her funeral, so I thought it was an appropriate time to share.

Grandma taught me that you don’t have to follow a recipe to whip up something with ingredients you have on hand. Or if we were following a recipe and we had missing ingredients, she always knew how to improvise. Not to mention her cooking was amazing! There’s just something about a grandma’s cooking, right? Almost every Sunday after church Grandma would host us all for lunch – our family, which included 5 kids plus my two cousins. I remember she would wear her apron to the dinner table. I always thought that was funny until I became the main cook of my own little family and learned her secret – that an apron is a sly way that an adult woman can wear a bib! Grandma grew up in the south, so it was fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, and banana pudding! There was always a feast on Sunday afternoons.

My Grandparents with my husband and me on our wedding day.

Grandma’s house was a wonderland for kids! They lived in a big house with a basement – where all the fun happened. They also lived on acreage, including a wooded path behind their home. They had a big red barn where Grandpa did all of his woodworking. Every summer they had a garden, and they had a pool too. We spent many summer days over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, picking ripe fruits and vegetables from their garden, swimming in the pool, and slurping popsicles out in the sun on the deck attached to the front of their house. Summer was the best time to spend the night at Grandma’s house. She would let us sleep with her. We would balloon up the sheets to make a “tent” and laugh and laugh. With the windows open, and the cool summer breeze rushing in through the screen, we would be lulled to sleep by the tune of the bull frogs and crickets who lived outside her window.

My Grandma meeting my firstborn, Cora. Her namesake is from my Grandma’s mother.

A famous story told in our family is “that one time Lorraine (age 6) and Joy (age 4) ran away to Grandma’s house.” Who doesn’t love Grandma’s house more than their own?! Now as a mother with my own children, I am horrified to think about two little pairs of legs walking nearly 4 miles to their Grandma’s house! Don’t worry, I apologize to my mom every time this story comes up! My Grandparents raised our cousins, so our plan was to live in Tim’s room and he would bring us food. When we arrived on their property, we hid out by the big pine tree at the edge of their front yard. We kept peeking around the tree, to see if anyone would see us. We then ran to the next tree – a little closer to the house. Grandma caught a glimpse of the flashes racing across her yard. When she came out and saw that it was us, she of course immediately called our mom – drat, the plan to live in Tim’s room was up. But, she did give us popsicles and let us swim in the pool in our clothes. We were hot after all.

My Grandma with my daughter Cora at my sister’s house in Atlanta.

I loved writing and poetry when I was younger. Grandma always encouraged me to write – a poem or a short story, or just write about your day – what you saw, heard, or felt. A few days after Grandma passed away, I had the urge to “deal with” my teenage angst ridden journals. I had found them in my closet several months back when I was doing a closet purge and I had decided then that I was ready to let those journals go. I didn’t want my kids to one day stumble on these horrible tales of my childhood. I seemed to write only when I had negative feelings, and I wanted to shred those and dispose of them for cathartic purposes. I began the process of shredding. When I got to the mauve Precious Moments journal, and opened the cover, I saw the beautiful scrawling which was my Grandmother’s writing. I ran my fingers over the words, tracing them as I read them. She had given it to me right before I entered high school. She wrote in the front a sweet poem about keeping record of your days. This journal I noticed I used in a different way than the other journals. The other journals were more of a “Dear Diary” scenario. This journal I WROTE. I wrote poems, deep thoughts, and unprocessed unfiltered feelings. Although the content was still angsty, I decided to keep this journal. The timing was so serendipitous. It’s like my Grandma was talking to me through the history of words on paper.

My Grandma, sister, and my sister’s son came out to visit us when we lived in Oregon.

My Grandma  was a teacher at heart, and never passed up opportunities to teach us. She loved to bird watch, and would teach us about the different birds and different bird calls. When we would walk through the woods, across the dilapidated wooden bridge, she would point out different types of trees. One time, I remember collecting leaves, which we would bring home and preserve between two sheets of wax paper using an iron to melt the wax. We got out the encyclopedias to look up what type of tree the leaf belonged to.

Grandma with my son, Luke. My Grandparents came to Austin to visit us!

A great way she taught her grandchildren was through travel and learning about other places. Her and my grandfather traveled all over the world! For each of their 7 grandchildren’s 5th and 11th birthdays, they took us on a special trip somewhere. I had to share my trips with my cousin Tim, because he was my age. Which I didn’t mind because we were good friends. For our 5th birthday trip, we loaded up the camper and drove to Savannah, Georgia. I don’t really remember much from this trip, other than a ride on a ferry boat. I also remember walking down the shoreline, and finding a huge jellyfish. A photo of my cousin and I squatting over this sea monster is still displayed in her home today.

My Grandma with my daughter, Cora.

For our 11th birthday trip, we drove all the way down the northeast coast states – starting up in Maine and working our way down. We went to a small fisherman’s town in Maine, where I learned you don’t eat the tails on shrimp. We went to New York City where I saw the first homeless person I had ever seen, was lectured by a woman with a cane on the subway that I should learn manners and give my seat to the “elderly” (referring to herself), and tried to walk up all the flights of stairs in the Statue of Liberty because the elevator was broken. Well, at least we made it to her feet! We went to D.C. where we walked past the white house, saw the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, and of course The Mall. We also went to the Smithsonian Museum.

Grandma always had funny, made up songs for everything. She liked to make us giggle. One time, on a trip traveling in her camper, we were sitting in the top bed overlooking the road as Grandpa drove the 5th wheel. We drove through a section of roadway that was nothing but pine trees across the hillside, as far as the eye could see. She started singing, “pine treeeeees, pine treeeees, pine trees. Pine treeeees, pine treeeees, pine trees,” then she paused for a moment and started this chorus again. We were both rolling with laughter!

My Grandma with my sons, Luke and Cade.

My college degree is in Journalism. I loved writing, even when I was very young. I attribute my love for writing and poetry to my Grandmother, who encouraged it in me. Today, I may not have a job using my journalism and writing skills, but over the years I have written in different capacities including currently writing blog posts. I thought it apropo to write a tribute to my Grandmother. I’ll end with a poem that I wrote about my Grandma when I was young.

A Grandma’s Love For Nature

By Joy L. Vendrely

I always wondered why Grandma stopped to look at flowers…

…For hours.

Why did she want to look at a waterfall?

That’s all.

Or admire a mountain with trees spread across…

…As if she were lost?

Grandma loves to collect shells from the ocean off the sand,

Just because she can.

I always wondered, but now I know…

…Because nature told me so.

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