This is my grandma and me on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday in 1997. Before the age of the internet, we were a letter-writing family. In the picture, I'm reading Grandma a letter I'd written her in honor of her birthday.
Grandma loved to tell stories. Most of her stories revolved around her daily life and history. Grandma's stories were very much part of the magic of my childhood. During the summer, Mom, Dad, my four siblings and I would often pile into our Ford sedan to travel over the river, through the woods, and up and down the steep, rutted dirt country roads to Grandma's house.
Grandma lived with Grandpa on their 40-acre farm in the Missouri Ozarks. As a little girl, I was in awe of her. She was a mythical, magical, mysterious character in my life, and I could never get enough of her company. She told me magical, fantastical, memorable stories of our ancestors and of her childhood. As an adult, I've come to realize Grandma's stories were really of everyday, ordinary farm life. It wasn't the facts of the stories that made them magical. It was the way she told them.
Grandma had passion and enthusiasm for life that's hard to explain. If she'd ever lost it, by the time she was my Grandma she'd rediscovered the magic of looking at the world through the eyes of a young child. I have some theories about why that may be. One theory has to do with Grandma's diminutive size.
Probably due to a growth-hormone deficiency, Grandma stood 4' 9" at her tallest. I suspect by the time I came along, aging had rendered her an inch or two shorter still. By the time I was a teenager, I was a foot taller than my tiny Grandma. Being so tiny, she got away with being a little girl longer than most, and she never seemed to lose those too-fleeting child-like senses of presence and wonder. I'm grateful to have been a beneficiary of those qualities she had.
One story Grandma told was about a contraption built by my great-grandfather. Grandma told a lot of her stories many times over, but this was one I'd never heard before. The first time she told it to me was only a few years before she passed away. Her stories had always fascinated me. When she told me the story about the contraption, I wondered if it was true. I even found myself wondering about other stories she told. Wrapped up in the daily grind of life, I'd lost touch with my own sense of wonder and found myself impatient with another one of grandma's stories.
Years later we had the sad task of cleaning out Grandma's house after her passing. Preserved along with hundreds of family heirlooms including letters, newspaper clippings, trinkets and jewelry, were hundreds of vintage family photos, some of which document and verify many of Grandma's stories. Some of the photos go back as far as the mid-1800's. Among them was a picture of my great-grandpa and his contraption, which he built to make tending the family's huge vegetable garden a less daunting task.
When we came across the picture, I knew the story of my great-grandfather's contraption was true. I've always wanted to preserve some of Grandma's stories. I was never able to talk her into writing them down while she was still here, although I certainly tried. Before it's forgotten, I've wanted to save some of this rich oral history of family farms, family gardens, and family dreams. These stories and the ones later generations have lived have shaped my values and how I view the world.
From time to time I'll include some of the family stories that sprinkled my childhood with a a sense of the wonder, creativity, resourcefulness, strength, compassion, passion, and love that is my heritage and birthright. I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy hearing and sharing them.
Friday my mom, who's also one of my best friends, will be my first guest-blogger! She'll be here to tell the story of Great-Grandpa's contraption.