Two Weeks with my Grandmother

Black-eyed Susan

As a child I moved frequently. My parents busily pursuing their careers as college professors—including year-long trips to Kenya and Belize where they conducted research—we moved from place-to-place. It may sound glamorous—but to a child? This child? I had no place to call home.

The closest I ever felt to home was with my grandmother at her house in Poland, Ohio, on the banks of the Yellow Creek. A quick walk across the bridge to every small-town amenity you would ever need—thank goodness, because Grandma (“Ohio Grandma” as we called her) didn’t drive. We walked all over town together: Isley’s Ice Cream, the post office, the small grocery, the library across the creek, her neighbor Mr. Steinfield’s house with all its clocks. She was from a different age and time, and when I was with her, I wished and hoped with all my might that her life would be mine.

Her house on the banks of the Yellow Creek was surrounded by gardens: vegetable, flowers, fruit, lush vegetation. Everywhere some small plant was tucked, a lovely flower or delicious berry treat. And it was here, in her beautiful world, I learned gardening basics: what plants grew where and how to care for them. To this day I cannot see some of her favorites—Black-eyed Susan, Lunaria (money plant), Swiss Chard, or Queen Anne’s Lace—without thinking of her.

Queen Anne’s Lace
But more, my grandmother taught me about what growing things need: vegetables and flowers, small woodland animals, and people too.

Every night I would lie, safely tucked into the small Jenny Lind bed in the tiny bedroom under the eaves—and I felt like one of her little plants: safe and secure. My bedroom window looked out over Main Street as well as the bridge over the creek. As I lay in bed, I could hear cars rattle over the bridge and trace their headlights across the flowered wallpaper, the same wallpaper my mother grew up with. With each set of headlights, I’d wish with all my might that it really truly was my home.

In the morning, we’d sit and eat our toast at her kitchen table. Together we’d watch the birds on the birdfeeder outside the window. She loved all the birds that came to the feeder (and even the squirrels that raided it, too!) and so began my lifelong interest in birds. Chickadees, Jays, and Cardinals—these favorites remind me of her.

Later, after a day of gardening and building dams in the small creek, we walked into the small village of Poland.  Hand-in-hand, down Main Street toward the center of town, my grandmother would stop to greet each person by name and introduce them to her granddaughter. As we walked she told me stories about my mother when she was my age, about her friends and all their adventures.

For two glorious weeks each summer I was lucky enough to be a part of my grandmother’s life. And during those two weeks she taught me about gardening, bird watching, cooking, and a little bit about life, too. 

But mostly? She taught me about home. 




Do you have special memories of your grandparents? Of things they taught you? Are there places or things you associate with home? How do these feelings or memories affect your writing?

Cheers,

Julia

Comments

  1. Country Wife says:

    Many special memories; my grandma and grandpa were “home” to me. I remember my grandmother having a thing for owls; she had collectibles all over the house. Look forward to seeing both of them in a few weeks :) Great post!

  2. Jan says:

    I’ve been thinking about your post – and how it makes me want to be more attentive of my children. (so I had to come back and leave a comment.)

    I had a super grandmother who was an arts director at a girls camp in the Hollywood Hills. I always went to camp during Easter break. (that’s what they called it when I was young.)

    Julie, very sweet post. Thank you.

  3. Ann says:

    Hi Julia! What a lovely post….your grandmother had a profound impact on your life and it sounds like your two weeks each year were lovely…

    My grandparents died long before I was born. While I wasn’t technically a “late in life” child, it was pretty close. I’m the youngest of seven.

    Every couple of years, we’d visit my “Connecticut Aunt”. She was older than my parents and her children were all grown.

    I’d get to stay with her and her husband while everyone else went to my “Rhode Island” Aunt.

    I remember how much I loved her house – there weren’t any kids, so it was quiet and tidy! ….and this Aunt baked! I would watch her – apron on – as she puttered around her kitchen that wasn’t full of people, spills or boxed foods (remember my mother didn’t cook)

    …she was fascinating! I think that was my first exposure to cooking!

  4. CMSmith says:

    This explains a lot about you, doesn’t it?

    A lovely story, well told.

  5. Barbarann says:

    Hi Julia,

    My grandmother was an off-the-wall woman, running fast and furious, only to die before I ever really knew her. My few memories contain some Sunday mornings when my brother and I would climb onto her bed so she could read the funnies to us. We had no idea she was in bed trying to die. She hugged and kissed us…something mama never did…and hid small treats in her sheets for us to find. So my memories of her belong totally to others who shared them with me. My aunts loved to tell me stories about her. The last outrageous thing she did, this mom of ten, was to run off and marry a soldier twent five years her junior. But she’s not a phntom in my mind; she’s very real.

  6. Country Wife, You’re so lucky to still have your grandma and grandpa to visit! It’s so interesting how some of us connected with our grandparents and others never have the opportunity (for whatever reason). Thank you for your comment and compliment! :)

    Jan, Thank you for the comment about my post making you want to be more attentive of your children — I know that my childhood really made me examine how I wanted to raise my children. How I wanted to be the person they associated with home (not my mother or my husband’s mother). What a wonderful memory of a grandmother who was an art director! Sounds like fun! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Ann, Yes, my grandmother did have a profound impact on my life (actually both my grandmothers had profound impacts — I’ll write about “New York Grandma” soon, too). I love the Connecticut and Rhode Island Aunts! You must’ve gotten a lot of your cooking interest from CT Aunt, like I did my gardening! And I know what you mean about the quiet; that was one of the things I loved about my grandmother’s house, too: you could hear the clock tick!

    Christine, I’m glad you enjoyed the story — I think that this and my other grandmother had a profound influence on my personality and interests in life. Thanks for coming by today!

  7. Barbarann, What wonderful stories about your grandmother — she sounds like quite an adventurer. As for hugs and kisses, that was my OTHER grandmother! I know what you mean about never getting that from your mom, me neither! Probably why I’m a very huggy mom (hate going to bed with out a hug and an “I love you” from my kids). Great stories about your grandmother!

  8. Beautiful post. As a fellow lover of small town Ohio, I can completely relate to your beautiful words. Are you familiar with Wendell Berry? I’ve read Jayber Crow and am currently reading Early Travels which deals with a ten year old boy spending time with his grandparents. Berry’s a beautiful writer, some would say a simple writer, but on every page, there is something I mark.

  9. Kelly, Thanks so much; glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t read any Wendell Berry, but it sounds like I should–especially because I love beautiful, simple writing. I’ll check out Early Travels. I’m glad you can relate to my Ohio town reflections; thank you again for the lovely compliment!

  10. Are you freaking kidding me, Julia? Poland? I grew up across the Ohio border in PA … right next to Youngstown, Boardman, Struthers … Been to Poland MANY a time. In fact, my dad grew up in Warren, Ohio, so we were in that state more than our own state.

    What a small, world, and one you captured brilliantly in this post. Must confess I’m a bit jealous. Never had a ‘good’ grandparent relationship with any of mine – all emotionally distant, all too many ‘other’ grandchildren (20-plus on my mom’s side). SO glad YOU had that experience.

  11. And the Canfield Fair! Did you go to that? Every year, like clockwork, we did.

  12. Melissa, Wow. No wonder we have so much in common! We’re practically related…. wait, are we related? I met someone recently whose father, it turned out, went to high school with my mother and uncle! Incredible, discovered out of the BLUE! You probably drove right by my grandmother’s house many times! I’m so glad you could relate! I know how lucky I was with grandmothers (I had another one who was wonderful in much different ways), but I also know what you mean about emotionally distant ones — my own kids have that kind. Thank you for your lovely compliments!

  13. Melissa, No, unfortunately, never went to the Canfield Fair — sounds lovely!

  14. What a beautiful post! I love hearing about your two weeks with Ohio Grandma and the serenity of your summer days. She taught you so many beautiful lessons, but maybe the best being the warmth and delight of home. Thank you for sharing this. Really a lovely treat!

  15. Annie, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post — thank you for reading! Yes, Ohio Grandma taught me many things, and the amazing thing is that I’m not sure she ever realized just how much she taught me! But of all her grandchildren, I know I’m the most interested in gardening & wildlife; perhaps kindred spirits!

  16. Kim Samsin says:

    Hi, Julia. Once again, a gorgeous post. I was lucky that my grandmother lived close enough that I could see her all the time, but I would have loved two whole weeks with her in a row. Although I think it would have worn the poor dear out. Thank you for being so generous with your memories.

  17. My grandmother’s house still appears in my dreams, though it was sold and she passed away a long time ago. Love the flower illustrations and descriptions – though your experience was different, yet they are/were the same.

  18. Kim, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! You were very lucky to live close to your grandmother and to have a daily relationship with her — I’m very envious!

    Beverly, I still think about my grandmother’s house a lot too and have also dreamed about it — so I know what you mean. They (and their homes) obviously made strong impressions on us!

  19. Hope Clark says:

    My grandparents lived on a Mississippi farm, and I spent two weeks each summer there. I chased feral cats in the barn loft, stuffed myself on fresh pears, and even tried to hand-pick cotton. We had a playhouse under the huge wisteria vines in the side yard. The goat and rooster chased my sister because she was such a little trouble maker. I learned to love chickens. But I loved most the naps on a down comforter high on a four-poster bed as a breeze came through the window. It was a slower pace than with my parents, and I felt more free.

    Thanks for this post. It made memories come back alive this evening.

    Hope Clark
    FundsforWriters.com

  20. Liz says:

    What special times with her! And obviously that time was very impactful on you. I love seeing grandparents all proud of their grandkids!

  21. Leah says:

    Lovely post! I have fond memories of my grandmother (dad’s mom) and grandfather (mom’s dad). We spent a lot of time at my grandfather’s home in Lake Tahoe growing up. I still always think of him when I see Tahoe.

  22. Aww, I love hearing these great memory stories. Simple times yet full of rich experiences. Beautiful post, Jules.

  23. Hope, Thanks so much for your comment and your visit to my blog! I’ve always dreamed of living on a farm, and your beautiful description captures some of what I’ve always imagined it would be. I’m so glad I was able to bring back such wonderful memories — your grandparent’s farm sounds amazing! Thanks again for the visit!

    Liz, I feel so fortunate to have had a grandmother who I could enjoy such special times with, and I agree it is wonderful to see grandparents proud of their grandkids!

    Leah, I absolutely love Lake Tahoe, and I can imagine the lovely times you had there — as well as the memories Tahoe must evoke now. Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Hallie, Glad you enjoyed my memories! I love that you called me Jules, too — it’s a nickname that I’ve earned (and like!) from a few other friends, but you’re the first blogger/Twitter friend to use it! LOVE it!

  24. Ado says:

    I want a Grandma Ohio and to be tucked into the little Jenny Lind bed like one of her little plants, all safe and sound, too! What a lovely vignette. I hope that one day I am remembered by grandchildren so fondly.
    PS: Kenya and Belize – you’re right – “sounds fab” but no place for a kid, esp. just for 1 year here and there, all that uprooting. Interesting to know. (-:

  25. Ado, I hope I’m this fondly remembered by my grandchildren (and children, too!)… I feel very lucky to have had such a special relationship with Ohio Grandma! Yes, Kenya and Belize are definitely no place ofr a kid, with all the uprooting, something my father just *very* recently has come to realize and apologize to me for! Thanks for your understanding! :-)

  26. This was amazing for me to read, not only because of your wonderful writing that evoked so many feelings (foremost, nostalgia) but because I live one suburb over from Poland.

    I rarely have reason to go over there. They do have a lovely, modern library that I’ve been to a few times. But I haven’t explored Poland itself. I’m envious that you have such homegrown memories of it – I’ve lived here in Boardman for 2.75 years but it’s not my home and I feel absolutely no roots here. But I do have an experience from childhood that gives me some idea of what you felt and experienced. And there seems to be nothing like it left in this modern world.

    Thank you so much for writing this. Very special.

  27. Milli, I can’t believe you live in Boardman! Drove by/through there so many times….and that library in Poland? If it’s in the same location as the old one (which I think it is) then it’s right across the creek from where my grandmother’s house was (if it’s still there)!!! Amazing, huh? I hadn’t thought of it when writing this post, but I think you are absolutely right that there seems to be nothing left in the modern world like what I had with my grandmother….I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

  28. Oh, cool. Glad you could share that. I was curious about where your grandmother’s house might be located. That should be easy to spot.

    Yes, the current two-story library has a creek running behind it. We’re going over near the edge of Poland today for a grocery run so I’ll see if MEH would agree to drive a little further to Poland library so I can look across the creek. I’ll report back if I’m able to do that. I’ll take my camera too, just like Maggie’s scribe would. ;~D

  29. My grandmother and I were very close too. I used to sleep there on Saturday nights and I’d stay up to watch SNL while she and her girlfriends played bridge. I have so many little memories of our time together. And she’s for sure a symbol of home. I LOVED this post, Julia.

  30. Milli, Glad to know Maggie has a faithful scribe in Poland :-)

    Nina, What a lovely memory of your grandmother! (You’re so lucky that you got that much time with her, too!) I think my grandmother would have been as happy as I am that so many people loved this post! Thanks for sharing your memories.

  31. “On the Banks of Yellow Creek” sounds like an L.M. Montgomery book. Perhaps one day it will be a Julia M. Martin book. :) I would so love to read more about your world traveling experiences and those in your grandmother’s home where time stood completely still. Good work!

  32. Jolina, Thanks for the compliments, Jolina, so glad you enjoyed the post. I would (of course) be thrilled if I got ANY book published, but it would be so exciting if it was one that had something to do with my grandmother and her lovely garden and memories of the creek…. the creek actually plays a big role in our family history in many ways, so it would be a fitting title.

  33. Lisa Ahn says:

    Julia,
    What a lovely meditation on memory and home. I have the best memories from my summer weeks with grandparents. One of my grandmothers taught me to cook and the other taught me to sew. Both taught me a lot about unconditional love. I still think they look out for me, their troublesome granddaughter, the one they love anyway because they just can’t help it! Thanks for the reminder of all those sweet, gone-away days.

  34. Lisa, Glad you enjoyed the post. I love that one of your grandmothers taught you to cook and the other to sew — that’s wonderful — but both taught you unconditional love! You were very fortunate. I doubt very, very much that your grandmothers consider you to be troublesome; and I’m glad I was able to give you a pleasant memory of by-gone days!