Granny and Grammy

I have just completed the next dress I will be putting on my Etsy site and as I was working, I was constantly reminded of my grandmothers. I wanted to share some of the legacy they have left me as I know many of you could tell some of the same stories of your grandmother(s).
I had a pretty sad childhood. I won’t go into many details here but it was filled with turmoil, separation, anger, neglect, abuse and fear. All fueled by addiction and affecting not only myself but all my brothers and sisters. During my childhood, I was lucky enough to spend many happy days with my maternal grandmother, Granny. This relationship was a gift from God, who I’m sure, looked down with sadness at the unhappy little girl I was. Granny herself was the product of a neglected childhood (funny how that goes on, isn’t it?) and was on her own at age 16. She was left by her father in the town of Asbury Park, NJ in a boarding house with a nickel. Her mother had died and all her brothers and sisters had been farmed out to relatives. She alone had stayed with her alcoholic father for several years, but had finally had enough. When he wanted to move on again, she said “no”. So, with the nickel in her pocket and the boarding room paid up til the end of the week, she found a job waiting tables at a local cafe. One of her customers was my grandfather, a young policeman in town. One thing led to another and they married in 1928 when she was 18. My mother was the youngest of their two children. 

Fast forward many years. Granny had taught herself to sew, cook, knit and keep house. She had a special place in her heart for me, maybe because I was the caretaker of the family as she had been. She would bring me to her house for the weekend (whenever we lived close enough) and I was in heaven. She cooked, and taught me how as well. Apple pie, applesauce, devils food cake, bread, fried potatoes, date nut bread, and endless cups of tea were the norm. She taught me to can and one of my favorite experiences was being sent down to the cellar and into her room full of canned food to obtain a jar of something or other. The wood was old and I can still remember the wonderful smell in that room. We currently have an antique grandfather clock and every time I open it, the smell reminds me of Granny’s root cellar 45 yrs later. She was a huge fan of crossword puzzles and reading. Even though she had never been schooled past the 8th grade, she could answer anything I asked her! Geography, history, math, definitions, poetry ……anything. She sang while she worked and I learned all the old great songs…..Beautiful Dreamer, Mairsy Doats , Red, Red Robin, Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree, The White Cliffs of Dover, and so many more. Despite her hard life, she had learned (as many folks did then) how to look beyond the now and still feel happiness. I wish I was able to do that as well as she did. She always had an apron on and her hands smelled like freshly chopped celery and onions mixed with Ivory soap. What a wonderful, clean scent that was. She was still a product of the 30’s however and her nails were always long and painted bright red. She wore red lipstick and pencil thin dark brows. When I was younger she smoked and I thought she was so elegant, the way she held her cigarette……just like those women in the movies.
Living frugally and making do were the norm for most of us then and she was no exception. She taught me to sew on her 1928 black Singer machine. I made the curtains that hung on her back porch out of yellow sprigged cotton when I was 10. They hung there until she died, faded and worn. She recovered her worn out sofa with different colors of fabric on the sides and arms…..these days it would be considered sort of Shabby Chic….then, it was just necessity. She was a fantastic knitter and would make the most wonderful knitted garments for my Barbie without a pattern. Little suit jackets with pencil skirts, hooded sweaters that nipped at the waist and had a peplum all around. I am fortunate to have her whole stash of knitting needles and some of her old patterns. I cherish them, along with her Blue Willow china and yellow Hull teapot. She passed away too young from a brain aneurysm and my grandfather lived many years past her death. As many older folks do, he had become a suspicious man and when I asked for some of her things, he often wanted to know “why” and refused many of my requests. So, the few things I have are very, very special to me. I miss her very much and wish that she could have seen how things turned out for me. She is in my thoughts often and today, while finishing up the dress she was very present.

When I grew up and married, I was blessed to gain a second grandmother, Grammy. My husband’s grandmother was similar to mine in that she also had little schooling and an alcoholic father. She also loved crossword puzzles, but even though I loved her, I have to say she couldn’t hold a candle to my Granny as far as knowledge went. Grammy was also a sewer and a decent cook, but didn’t knit or can or bake too much by the time I knew her. I’m sure she must have done some of that when she was younger since her era was the same as my Granny’s but she embraced new things easily and had one the first microwave I ever used. One big difference in the two was that Grammy sewed much, much more. She made drapes, slipcovers, reupholstered furniture,  and made dresses too. By then, I was sewing quite a lot and had made most of my clothes through high school on that old black Singer my grandmother had decided to give to me. So, when I married, Grammy and I became fast friends and could spend many happy hours looking at, talking about and choosing fabrics and trims. She gave me the courage to tackle making drapes and curtains and to try my hand at slipcovering and upholstering. On Easter, she would make the dresses for my girls and I would make a matching coat. She loved to dress them like Shirley Temple….big fluffy skirts and lots of lace. it was not exactly the style in the 70’s but I loved it. Grammy’s ‘career’ by the time I met her was making Barbie clothes. She had a little corner in my father-in-law’s television store where she displayed her creations. Each one was unique and reflected her love of fashion. No little skimpy wedding dresses for her Barbies. The skirts were full of beaded lace with long trains and matching veils. Each came with a big satin petticoat to make the dress stand out.The price for these? A whopping $10. She really had a following too, with mothers bringing their daughters back to get dresses just like they had bought themselves years before.  My girls were lucky to have all the Barbie clothes they could handle!

Grammy had a relationship with a bridal shop owner and the owner gave her bags of all the leftover trims and fabrics. I have bags of them myself today. Grammy saved EVERYTHING and spent evenings snipping apart old clothes to salvage the ribbons, trim, embroidered flowers, buttons, etc. Many of her trims and embellishments end up in the clothes I make. Her sewing room was a disaster and she routinely had to stop sewing to clean it up because she just couldn’t find anything!. I spent many happy hours sorting things and winding up trims and ribbons. If I said “this is pretty” she’d say “go ahead and take it dear”. She bought bags of trims at flea markets for a pittance and we would find all kinds of great trims in a big knot which required patient hours of unraveling. That is what it’s like to ‘make do’. I still retain that need to not waste things and I conseqently have a lot of fabric and trims that I can’t bring myself to just throw away. I’m waiting for the next person like me to come along so I can say “go ahead and take it dear”. 

We were lucky and, unlike my own grandmother, Grammy lived until 96. She was one of my biggest fans and was always encouraging me in my desire to have a beautiful home. She was able to visit us in this new house we built about 11 yrs ago and was thrilled at how beautiful it was. I know she would love the clothes I make and, again, I think of her and say “thanks Grammy” every time I pull out a beautiful piece of lace or trim…..all wound carefully into a ball and secured with a straight pin.
I am a grandmother and I think often about whether I am making an impact on my grandchildren. Fortunately, I have two very talented daughters who cook, sew, create and do all the things I needed my grandmother to teach me when I was young. So there isn’t such a need for me to teach my grandchildren those things but I hope in other ways they will remember me when they are older. Neither my Granny or Grammy ever thought much about what they did, I’m sure. There was no concentrated effort to ‘make a memory’….they just did. They didn’t spend hours scrapbooking every picture, they couldn’t spend lots of money on big birthday parties or trips, and I can count on one hand the times we ate together in restaurants. But, the fond memories I have are of the times I spent with them doing simple things…cooking, sewing, singing, and drinking tea. There are some valuable lessons to be found in doing simple things.

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  1. What a great tribute. Such treasured memories. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I so enjoyed this post Mom! I was sobbing by the end. I spent many hours with those “great-grandmothers” and learned from them too. We were so blessed to have them, and you! You have taught me so many wonderful things. I am passing them on to the girls and I thank you for it! Thank you for writing this. I didn’t know all that about Granny. Oh and by the way. I want the orange knitted Barbie sweater back one day, I gave it to you for safe keeping and for memories of Granny. I’d like to tell about Granny to the girls and pass it down one day. I love you and cherish you for many reasons, but your many talents make you one of my richest resources! Thank you!

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