Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day Special - Part 3 of 4 "Granny"

Here is an image of one of Granny's special meals.  I believe that this is Thanksgiving 2010.  Granny is at the head of the table, Grampy is to her right, my husband Tim to her left.  I am in the purple next to Tim.  Across from me is my mother, Tammie.  Notice how beautifully Granny keeps her fine farmhouse.  If I am not mistaken, the blue and white table clothes is and Afghani piece collected from their travels.
Growing up in Olympia, Washington meant spending summers in Wyoming.  When I was fifteen, my sister and I flew from Seattle WA to Casper WY where our paternal grandparents, whom we call Granny and Grampy, picked us up and brought us home to their farm near Ft. Laramie for a month long visit.  I remember climbing off of the plane, after a hair raising transfer in Salt Lake City, and smelling the sage after a long day's travel.  Grampy, in his cowboy boots, picked up our bags and even though we were a thousand miles from the place we slept the other 11 months of the year, Laura and I knew we were home.
From an early age, Laura and I had come to expect, at very least, a visit to the farm in the summertime.  Occasionally we had been treated to a Christmastime trip too.  The year we flew together was our first and only trip without our parents.  It was a unique bonding experience for us to have with Granny and Grampy.  For Laura, who was more outdoorsy, and animal oriented, it was a chance to work the farm with Grampy.  For me, more of an inside girl, it was a nice chance to be with Granny.
While Grampy and Laura would be out working with the horse or irrigating, Granny and I would be doing something like baking bread or going to town for mail and groceries.  That summer she taught me how to get bloodstains out of laundry.  She taught me what brand names are worth paying extra for, and which items are just as good generic.  She also taught me how to make a maple flavored syrup, an egg-less chocolate cake, perfect wheat bread, and my favorite stuffed bell peppers.  She showed me how to sort the dinner scraps between the burn barrel and the Llama, and not to waste ice cubes that fall on the floor (throw them in the dog water dish).  Right now, it seems like the educated feminist in me should be including more complicated or superior things in this list of fine lessons.   But that's not so. 
The feminist in me is proud.  She recognizes that the many lessons that I learned that summer, are the few shortcuts to life I know.  That month was a crash course in surviving motherhood that I never knew I was going to need.  I learned that if I ask, the butcher will cut the pork-chops that are on sale in half, doubling the portion for the same price.  I learned to have my groceries double bagged in paper if I have a ways to drive after shopping, which is common in Wyoming.  I learned how to make strawberries, lettuce, green onions, bell peppers and melon last longer, by storing them properly.  These things save me money.  They literally equate to more food on my son's plates.  I could go on, and on, honestly, but I won't.  I will only say that I have learned so much by simply shadowing my Granny that I pity the other 7 billion people on earth who don't have MY Granny for a Granny.
So far, I have described to you, a woman that could be many American grandmothers I suppose.  Let me tell you more, maybe then you'll see why my Granny is literally 1 in 7 billion.
Granny was born in 1930 into poverty to an orphaned woman who had been raised by a woman I know only through family folklore as Aunt Bertha.  When Granny was very young she too was handed off to Aunt Bertha and her husband, Uncle George.  I'd explain these circumstances but I'm not sure I understand them, and if I am only going to speak well of people, I am only going to speak of George and Bertha Nash, who raised both my Great Grandma Walker and her daughter, my Granny, as their own.  The Nash's raised many children, and I am told that George and Bertha treated Granny as their daughter and my father as their grandchild.  Their love has been  beacon to me, in spite of the fact that they have been dead since long before my memory, I still feel it.  I am grateful that in them, my Granny had a fighting chance.
Granny was very young, I think 19 or 20 when she married Grampy.  Two years later, in 1951, my aunt was born, followed in 1958 by my father.  In the early 1960's Granny and Grampy bought the farm near Ft. Laramie.   A few years later Grampy got a job with US A.I.D. working in 3rd world countries to teach the locals to farm and live more efficiently.  They started in Kunduz, Afghanistan in 1966 and traveled for several decades to places like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, and more. 
Now seriously folks.  Stop and take a moment and try your best to put yourselves in my grandmother's shoes.  It's 1966.  You are a young woman who has lived in rural America, near friends and family for your entire life.  You have a 13 year old daughter and a 7 year old son.  You don't have the internet.  You don't have a cell phone. You have no way of knowing what you are getting yourself into, none of your friends just came back from war there, this place isn't a household name yet.  Still - you pack your entire life up, and travel to the other side of the planet to support your family and country.
Can you imagine?  Can you even try?  I know I falter at it.  I try to think what it might be like and I realize that no matter how many times I hear the stories, I know that I haven't got the guts to even begin to find out what that kind of culture shock must be like.  Granny amazes me because she kept the four of them alive in places that I'm not sure I could have managed the same.  She remembered to boil the germs out of the water, and scald them off of restaurant silver and flatware.  She managed to make edible food out of the markets of 60's and 70's Kabul, and Kathmandu.  She traveled the globe something like 30 times, covering some difficult terrains, navigating the most inhospitable climates, surviving strange an unknown cultures.  In some locations she was my father or aunt's home-school teacher.  For some towns they lived in, she may have been a nurse, a social worker, a confidant,or an adviser.  She was a western woman, of some means, in places fallen with poverty, disease, and a lack of education.  Though it is difficult to quantify here, it is clear that she was far more than a housewife. 
I imagine that in some of those rural places, of 3rd world 1966, she was the only impression of American women that many of the people that she interacted with ever saw to that point in their lives.  At the height of the cold war, the importance of this cannot be denied.  When the history books say that we had people out there winning the"hearts and minds" of foreign entities, they don't mention it, but they are talking about folks like my grandparents doing the winning.   I have nothing but admiration for the guts and grit that it took to choose to change the world in this manner.  In a time when many women were spending their time making meals, keeping a home and doing laundry, my Granny was doing that too, only while traveling the globe, raising two kids, representing our country and changing the world.  She reminds me of that quote, "Ginger Rodgers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backward and in high heels."  Well, let me tell you this my fine readers,  I feel that it is absolutely appropriate for the feminist in me to point out that I grew up listening to tales of how my grandfather was some kind of cross between Indiana Jones and a Wyoming Cowboy...  With that in mind, it seems more than fair to say that my Granny did everything that he did, except backward and in high heels.

Thinking back to that visit home to Wyoming at the age of 15, I remember that one day I got bored with quiet farm life.  My solution was to write a letter to a friend back in Washington, telling outright lies about a totally fabricated relationship between myself and the son of a man who had worked with my grandfather on some cattle that day.  Granny was cleaning my room and happened upon my passel of lies.  She was mad.  I was mad.  At first I blamed her for reading the letter.  Then she told me something I've never forgotten.  She told me that I ought not write something if I don't intend everyone to read it.  If I don't mean it - if I don't want to sign my name to it with honor, I should never put it on paper.  I learned then and there, that the written word, as well as the spoken word, must always have integrity and truth.
Ironically, a decade and a half later, I hope that she understands that I truly did learn this lesson when she reads this blog-post.  I hope she understands that I have nothing but the honest and heartfelt intent to honor her here.  I will proudly post this on my page, and in effect, sign my name to the sentiments of this article.  If at any point in my life someone asked me what woman has the highest moral character, who is most likely to choose the right answer among difficult choices, who is most honest, most dignified, most stylish, best at entertaining, best at housekeeping or cooking, best at thoughtful analysis of news or politics, who I'd pick to travel the world with me or go to just to go to Macy's, I'd pick my Granny.  She truly is 1 in 7 billion. 
I pity the rest of you, who haven't got a Granny, like my Granny.  You are missing out on a fine woman. If in my lifetime, I am able to be half the woman she is, I'll be content in my efforts.  If one day, I have a granddaughter, I only hope she is something like my Granny.  If she is, she'll be lucky and smart enough to know it.

No comments: