After Mona’s death, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a woman, and in particular how I came to feel the way I do about femininity. This has led me to thinking about the odd circumstances of my childhood and formative years that have led me to seek role models from outside my family. I’ve decided to intersperse my random blog entries with a few articles on these very special women who were willing to take in someone else’s daughter and share their wisdom with me.
Grandma Gladys is the first woman that I remember having an impact on my life. My own maternal grandmother died before I was born. My paternal grandmother might as well have been dead for all of the interest she took in me. I only remember her paying specific attention to me on one occasion. We’d gone back for my grandfather’s funeral. She’d died her hair red and took me aside to tell me about her new boyfriend. I do know that she loved cats and had a shed full of wild cats behind her house. As a cat lover, I spent one lovely evening out there before discovering chiggers…and learning that I am most definitely allergic to chiggers. But, I digress…
My parents did volunteer work at the New Hope Home in the town where I grew up, and during that time, they invited Grandma Gladys to live with us and help take care of me. I don’t remember what my own mother was doing during those days, but I know that Grandma Gladys loved our whole family as if they were her own.
She did have a real family. Her daughter’s name was the same as my mother’s, and I know there was an intense dislike between the two of them, both jealous of every moment of Glady’s time. It was that jealousy that would eventually take Grandma Gladys out of my life.
As a little girl, I remember Grandma Gladys teaching me to plant delicious fruits and vegetables in the garden. We lived in a remote, sunny location and things grew beautifully. I had strawberries and rubarb plants to spare, despite frequent deer attacks. (We also had venison from the same garden, but that’s another story.)
Gladys taught me to harvest my little plot and let me watch as she transformed those growing things into the most delicious strawberry rubarb pies and jams. To this day, I love rubarb, associating it with warm summer days and a sense of being loved completely.
Her daughter eventually insisted that she go to live with them, and so she bade goodbye to me and moved into the desert. From there, she would send me cactus candy each year — teaching me that good can come even from the prickliest situations.
We visited her in that desert on a couple of occasions. It was during one of those visits that I officially became a woman (women know what I mean, men should just skip to the next paragraph). That was the only time I remember Grandma being angry with my mother. I was terrified…there was blood everywhere and I was certain I was at death’s door. At first, my mother did not explain the situation to me. Grandma found me crying in the bathroom. I remember she left me there, and there was a loud argument in the other room about whose job it was to teach me about this mystery of womanhood, and how cruel it had been to allow me to find out this way. After a few moments of that, my mother sulked into the bathroom and explained the basics to me.
I’m not sure I learned much from my mother’s sullen explanations that day, but I did learn a lot from Grandma’s anger.