My paternal grandma was a nurse… she died many years before I ended up following in her footsteps after my mid-life career change, but I think it would have made her proud.
Grandma had long, jet-black hair that she wore in two braids wrapped around and around her head like a halo. She was big and soft and huggable, and felt good when she wrapped her arms around me and squished me into her. It scared me when she talked of losing weight, because I couldn’t imagine being comforted by a hug from a skinny grandma!
Grandma was a thrifty and practical soul — like so many who lived through the great depression, she was very frugal, and was into recycling long before “environmentalism” was even a word. When my dad was a kid, she’d stitch up his cuts with black silk thread, and if more complicated medical attention was required, she’d take him across the road to their neighbor who was a veterinarian.
I don’t think Grandma ever threw anything away. There was a mesh onion bag hanging on the door of her fridge where she kept the ends of any cans she used in cooking — they were for nailing over mouse holes, she said, and I used to try to imagine the amazingly huge mouse colony it would have taken to make that many holes. There was a drawer in her kitchen where she kept washed and dried tinfoil to be reused over and over again. Clothing that was too worn out to be mended was braided into rag rugs, and scraps of the clothing she sewed were turned into quilts. Once when she was cutting out a shirt for my dad on the kitchen table, she accidentally cut the red checked tablecloth too, so she made him another shirt from the tablecloth. I loved drinking milk from Ball canning jars and helping Grandma paste her S&H Green Stamps from Piggly Wiggly into their stacks of books.
Most of my memories of Grandma are from when I was 3 and 4 years old. That’s when my Air Force dad was stationed in Waco, only an hour and a half from where his parents lived, and we spent almost every weekend with them. All these years later, I have vivid memories of those days. Grandma taught me to talk to the frogs at night, out in the Texas woods where she and Grandpa lived, by banging two smooth rocks together. The frogs would answer from all around us, and it seemed like there must be millions of them. She would take me for walks and we would hunt for agates and arrowheads and pretty pieces of petrified wood together, and she taught me to call the chickens, “Here, chick-chick-chick!” and scatter their feed. When a nest of chicks had hatched out, she would gather any eggs that were late to hatch and nestle them into a Kleenex box padded with soft rags. We’d put the box next to the warm coffee pot in the kitchen and listen to the peeps of the hatching chicks, and when they were ready, we’d watch them hatch out there on the kitchen counter. Once when she butchered a rooster for dinner, she let me have his feet to play with, and I was having a grand time making chicken tracks in the dirt until my mom came along and had what Grandma called a “conniption fit” and took them away from me.
Grandma gave me lots of medical advice, too. Some of it was a little confusing; for instance, she told me not to swallow my gum because it would stick to my ribs, but she told me to eat my meat, because it would stick to my ribs. When I snitched tastes of pancake batter, cookie, biscuit, and pie dough in her kitchen, she told me I’d get worms, but she always made sure there was plenty for snitching, just the same. She said that when I grew up I should marry a man 5 years younger than me, so we’d die at the same time, and she said to never pick at my face within the “death triangle,” the triangular area of the face between the bridge of the nose and the corners of the mouth. When I got cuts and scrapes at Grandma’s house, she’d paint them with mercurochrome, or “monkey blood,” as she called it. It was fascinating stuff, red liquid that glinted green and gold where it dried, but it stung like the dickens. Grandma would blow on it to make it hurt less.
My dad used to play a game with us when we were little, one we called “I love you mostest.” It was a contest to see whose love reached the farthest, parrying back and forth with ever greater expanses, like “I love you all the way to the mailbox!” “I love YOU all the way to Africa!” “I love YOU all the way to the moon!” I came up with the hands-down all-time winner, though, one night on our way home from Grandma’s house. It was the biggest “I love you” ever, and when I resorted to it, Daddy knew better than even try to best it. My grand champion “I love you” was this one: “I love you all the way to Grandma’s coffee pot!”