This essay is an ode to my Grandma. She was a woman who I could not understand, yet slightly fascinated me as a child. My Grandma was shaped by The Great Depression. She was a woman who worked hard all her life, and expected everyone else to work just hard! I have always believed that our relationship was tragic and static. I always wished I understood her better, and had a closer relationship. But that was too difficult, for I felt such bitterness and resentment towards her. I believed this would never change.
Every summer my family would pack up the car and head to her cabin in Washington State near the Canadian border. It was always exciting to get away from the “usual” and take a trip. But there was also fear and dread that went along with these trips. As a little kid I loved her cabin on a lake in the woods, but never looked forward to the chores she gave me and my siblings.
For example, I knew my Grandma would put us to “work” wringing out the cloths through her old timey dryer – a ringer. Which actually takes a lot of arm muscle to get the water rung out of the cloths, while turning the handle.
The cabin was fun, but also a little scary,for
the shower was located in the damp smelly basement , where you were sure to find snakes and frogs, willing to shower with you.
And the gifts she gave us were sure to be disappointing, for they were always old and used from a yard sale – her favorite hobby!
My sister and I found joy in the nature of the cabin’s surroundings, but dreaded her demanding work ethic, and “left over” meals. She could never leave the table until EVERYTHING was eaten. Explaining her rather wide girth. Lately memories of her canned fish flood my brain. As does her advice on saving EVERY nickel.
My Grandma was fond of reminding my sister and I that we were not sensible, for the Great Depression can happen again, without a moments notice. My Grandma (my Mother’s Mother) was a teenager during The Depression, which forced her to give up her dreams of art school, and instead take up hard menial labor, in order to help support her family. And since that day on she worked hard and saved every penny, and ate every crumb of food, and canned and canned all the food she could find in nature, until she took her last breath in 1987.
As a child I always wanted one of those sweet Grandmas that spoil their Grandchildren with new lovely gifts. instead of gifts, she instilled wit her childhood stories, the fear of sudden poverty and dream bashing events, that according to her, could happen at any moment.
After these long childhood summer days I would return to school and listen to my friends recount their summer vacation to DisneyLand with jealousy. Wow, a vacation to the moon seemed more plausible to me, than a trip to DisneyLand!
I felt such self pity. At the start of the school year our teachers always made us write an essay about our summer vacation, which was always a stressful experience. I am sure I filled those essays with exciting falsehoods! Maybe FAO Schwartz miraculously appeared in the middle of nowhere that summer near my Grandma’s cabin!
While other children brought their Mickey Mouse souvenir hat to show to their friends, all I had to show every year was a can of canned trout!
I have always loved my Grandma, but also wished I had one of those cuddly grandmas that read, sing, and spoil you.
Years have passed, and I often would discribe my Grandma to people as a woman who was hard, demanding, and forever living in the past of The Great Depression, never able to relax and enjoy the modern life. Why Could she not have just bought a dryer like other people!
Now it is 2009 and my comfortable world as I have known it is falling apart. I am married with two kids. I have been a stay at home mom for a decade. I have been grateful of being able to stay at home and take care of children, but now everything is changing.
Instead of being a stay at home mom, I am now hoping I can find a job teaching preschool to keep food on the table. Why did I not listen to that feisty frugal woman? I often hear myself scolding myself. I cannot believe after all these years my Grandma was right! I barely have saved a penny, let alone a nickel!
Where is her canned food when I need it! I was spoiled, overly confident and content in the modern world with modern expectations. Another Great Depression seemed unthinkable! Well, how right she was about how quickly things can change! My husband’s company has just collapsed in the modern market. He has been job hunting, yet no jobs are to be found. Layoffs are happening everywhere. It seems to be an epidemic with no cure in sight!
I am confused. How can this be us? Our biggest problem used to be how to decide where to go on vacation, and now I wonder how to put food on the table, let alone bigger problems, like health insurance!
Oh, once again, getting to DisneyLand seems to be as out of reach as landing on the moon! My relationship with my Grandma seems to be changing. My feelings confusion and bitterness towards her has now been replaced with pride and happiness, for now I believe she was loving us when she told her tales of woe and put us to work. I believe she was trying to help us grow up strong and become prepared for the realities of life. Where as other kids got a new book and a trip to DisneyLand, I was given stories that will help me with through this tough time! I am now proud of my Grandma’s hard work ethic, and her seemingly inability to relax and stop working! Thinking of her gives me strength during these hard times. I can picture her now laughing hard and slapping her knee in amusement at some joke, while she made her cabin spotless before she went to bed.
I am now so thankful of her stories of The Great Depression, and know that maybe one day my Grandchildren will be tired of my stories about the hardships of The Depression of 2009. I am now thankful of these gifts she gave us and believe that relationships change, evolve, and grow in spite of time or even mortal presence! This I believe!