Sunday, September 07, 2008

Thoughts on Grandparents' Day

This day had no special meaning for me. Unlike most people my age, I have no children or grandchilden, and I've reached the age when I no longer have living grandparents to honor. Still, a photo from my mother's album reminded me of my maternal grandparents, Edward S. Uhl and Minnie Louise Blanchard Uhl.

This picture shows them early in the 1900's, probably before my mother was born. I never knew Grandpa Uhl. He died the week before my mother's high school graduation, so I know him only though her memories.

I did know Grandma Minnie, as we called her. My first memory of her was as a spirited widow who drove an old Chevy coupe with a rumble seat. As a child, I loved to ride in that rumble seat, wearing a scarf and sunglasses and pretending to be a famous movie star in disguise.

Later, our whole famiy visited her and her third husband on a small farm near tiny Scales Mound, Illinois. The things I remember best about those trips are the kerosene lamps and the outhouse (we'd always had electriciy and indoor plumbing at home in Wisconsin), a shed that suddenly collapsed with a bang one night while we slept, and a mysterious, boarded-up one-room school nearby. My brother and I loved to peer through the cracks to see this fascinating artifact from the past.

For her time, Grandma Minnie was a remarkable woman, a survivor. Despite her lack of economic advantages and education, she always worked hard, and coped with the loss of three husbands and eventually, of her only son, my Uncle Eddie. She did farm work, cooked, baked, cleaned, sold various products door-to-door, read, worked crossword puzzles very successfully in ink, and lived without many of the advantages I've always taken for granted until very late in her life. For her, the walk down the garden path to the outhouse was part of life, even in a time when it was a curiosity to the rest of us.

My father's family looked down on Grandma Minnie and her various husbands as virtually "trailer trash," but my mother and I always admired her spirit. Nothing seemed to get her down; there was no pretense about her. She lived to age 89, finally crocheting colorful flowers for charity at the small town nursing home where she spent her final days. I still have a few of those flowers.

Most of Grandma's grandchildren and great-grandchildren have attended college and achieved success beyond anything Grandma Minnie ever dreamed of. Perhaps those of us who have adopted veneers of sophistication and become accustomed to today's luxuries need grandparents' day to remember those who came before us. Grandma Minnie still lives in my memory to teach me that it's not the material things that count most.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Memaw said...

I loved reading about your Grandma Minnie. I took the liberty of sharing a link to your tribute to Grandma Minnie on my own blog. Reading about her brought back memories of my own grandmothers and also drove home the importance of grandparents in the lives of children.

Darlene said...

I believe immortality lies in the memories we leave behind. I remember my great grandmother and two grandmothers with fondness. I hope my grandchildren will think of me that way someday.

It isn't just grandchildren; friends remember us also and stories we leave are read and re-read.