Tag Archive | grandma

Minor Characters in Our Life Stories

In last week’s blog post I wrote about the Sunday dinners of my childhood. To keep the story short, I left out one of the minor characters in those dinners, Eva Frankson. I’ve been thinking about her ever since.

Eva lived with Grandma. My grandma had a small house across the street from the west side park in Cambridge. The house had a large eat-in kitchen, a living room, one bedroom downstairs and one bedroom up in the attic. The bathroom was downstairs – a room large enough to hold Grandma’s loom where she wove rag rugs. (That’s another story.) Eva had the bedroom in the attic.

Eva worked as a waitress in one of the restaurants on Main Street. Grandma had worked in the same restaurant, and I guess that is where they met each other.

Grandma - Eva - waitresses

Waitresses of the Cottage Restaurant in Cambridge, about 1950. My grandma is on the left. Eva is on the right. I don’t know the three in the middle.

When I was in grade school, sometimes I would go to my grandma’s after school instead of taking the bus home, and I’d wait for my mom to come home from work in Madison to pick me up. Grandma and I usually spent the time putting together picture puzzles. We both loved to do puzzles. I remember listening together, very quietly, to hear Eva come in the front door after her walk home from work at the restaurant. If she was really tired, she’d stop in the living room before climbing upstairs to her room. Eva would compliment us on our progress on the puzzle, and then she and Grandma would talk a little bit about the day. But mostly Eva just sat down and rested. She was tired. After a few minutes she’d climb the stairs to her room.

Eva and Grandma with their cats. Eva never liked to have her picture taken - that's why she's hiding behind her cat.

Eva and Grandma with their cats. Eva never liked to have her picture taken – that’s why she’s hiding behind her cat.

Whenever Mom invited Grandma to go anywhere with us, she often invited Eva to join us. Once they both rode with us all the way to Wheaton, Illinois to visit my sister Nancy in college. It was pretty crowded in the car with Mom and Dad, Grandma, Eva, Danny, and me. I remember I sat on Eva’s lap for the whole car ride of almost three hours. I’ll admit, I got tired of sitting still. But as I look back on the trip 60 years later, I guess Eva probably got even more tired of holding me, although she never complained.

Eva never said much about anything. She was always pleasant, but very quiet. I once asked Mom about whether or not Eva had any relatives. Mom said that her parents had given her away when she was a little girl. Someone had been visiting them, and they had commented on what a nice little girl she was. The parents said they could have her if they wanted her. So they took her home with them. I guess that’s all Mom knew about the story.

The one person Eva occasionally talked about was John. Another time I asked Mom who John was. She said that although Eva had never married, she had a son named John. He had been killed in a farming accident when he was 13. I never learned any more details.

Eva was a quiet, extra person in my life. Kind of like a bonus family member – another  grandma, but not quite the same. She was part of the Sunday dinner family. After Grandma died, Mom helped Eva find another place to live and continued to include her in many of our family activities.

Eva w coffeeWhen I was in college, I came to the realization one day that my brother Danny had grown from a subtly rebellious teenager into a kind and caring young man. It was the day I learned that Danny had become the person that Eva could call upon for help whenever she needed strong young muscles to move something heavy, or a creative problem-solver to fix something. Danny was always there to help her. I guess Eva’s quiet presence in our lives had enriched Danny’s life as well as mine.

I’m glad last week’s blog post prompted me to remember and be thankful for Eva, one of the many “minor characters” who has enriched my life story.

I Have Something to Confess

That's me about the time this happened.I have something to confess, a sin of omission. It’s something that’s been on my mind off and on for the past sixty years. This sin of omission really weighed heavily on my conscience for the first year or two. Now it just comes to mind occasionally.

It happened when I was a little girl. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, probably about 6. I was at my grandma’s house. She was hosting a “Stanley Party.” There were lots of older women, probably about a dozen, in her living room. I knew most of them as being the grandmas from church.

A “Stanley Party” was kind of like a “Tupperware Party” only the products were “Stanley Home Products” – mostly household cleaners.

The company still exists:  http://www.shponline.com/english/about.asp

Grandma

Grandma

For the first hour of the party the “Stanley Lady” demonstrated the products and the women wrote up their orders. Then the hostess, my grandma on this day, brought out dessert and coffee for all the women, and everyone sat around and talked for a long time. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room, near the door to the hallway that went outside. I think I was coloring in a coloring book. I remember it was very noisy in the room. Everyone was talking, laughing, and enjoying being together.

It was snowing outside, and just beginning to get dark. Stella Lillesand, a really old lady who had been my mother’s Sunday School teacher when she was little, decided to leave the party first. Stella had to walk two long blocks to get to her home from my grandma’s house, and she thought the snow might make walking more difficult, especially as it got darker. Shortly after she left, I thought I heard an awful noise, like someone screaming. No one else seemed to hear it. I kept coloring, but then I heard the noise again. Was someone outside yelling? I looked around at all the women in the room. Everyone was talking, and no one else seemed to be hearing what I thought I heard. I was kind of afraid. I colored some more, and tried to forget about those awful noises. Maybe I wasn’t really hearing anything.

About half an hour later, someone else decided to leave the party. After saying her good-byes, she walked out the door. Less than a minute later, she came running back in, all excited. She had found Stella on the sidewalk, moaning in pain. My grandma called an ambulance, and Stella was taken to the hospital. She had slipped on the sidewalk right outside my grandma’s house, fallen, and broken her hip. That awful noise I had been hearing for the past half-hour was Stella crying for help. Oh, why hadn’t I told someone. I felt so bad. Today is the first day in sixty years that I’ve mentioned this “sin of omission” to anyone.

Why am I finally confessing it today? For some unknown reason, the whole incident came to mind again last week. I don’t know why.

And then Sunday afternoon Mim and I went to a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert. Overall, the concert was wonderful – one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in a long time. It was an unusually varied concert that included works by Jean Sibelius, Joseph Haydn, Alexander Arutiunian, and Richard Strauss.

A-BombRight in the middle of the concert was a work by John Adams called “Doctor Atomic Symphony,” composed in 2007. It was 25 minutes of frenzied agitation, loud mechanical crashes, and brash fanfares – all evoking both terror and sadness. The three movements are named, The Laboratory, Panic, and Trinity. “Doctor Atomic” refers to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the Manhattan Project in 1945 to create the first atomic bomb. The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s program description of the work quotes from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, which was referenced by Oppenheimer following the first atomic bomb test, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The audience listening to the work Sunday afternoon couldn’t help but feel the heavy, heavy remorse of the scientists who carried out this horrible test of the atomic bomb, as they gradually realized the potential of the terror-filled monstrosities they were enabling.

Francois Rabelais (1483-1553), a writer of the French Renaissance, understood the relationship between conscience and scientific advancement centuries ago when he wrote, “Science without conscience is the death of the soul.”

A more contemporary Frenchman, Albert Camus (1913-1960), added, “A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” I guess that was the role of the “Doctor Atomic Symphony” – to put the confession of our atomic scientists into a form that could be understood and felt by the audience. I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear the “Doctor Atomic Symphony” but I’m really thankful that the rest of the concert included music that was much more pleasant and uplifting to hear.

George-WashingtonWhat do the regrets of a six-year-old and the remorse of the team of scientists who developed the atomic bomb have in common? Conscience. That special gift God gave to all of us.

George Washington’s 282nd birthday comes up on Saturday. He gave us some advice about conscience:

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

flame

An Endless Supply of Grandmas

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

Doris and Abbey reminding each other how much love there is in the world

Seven years ago, Mim and I were interviewed by a 12-year-old boy. We wanted to adopt his 3-year-old dog Abbey. He wasn’t able to keep her any more, and he put her up for adoption through the Humane Society.  We saw Abbey’s picture on the Internet, and called the number listed to schedule a time to meet Abbey and be interviewed by the 12-year-old. During the interview, we told him that Abbey would have an endless supply of grandmas to pet her if she would live with us. That clinched it. We were chosen to be the lucky ones among all the people who wanted to adopt Abbey.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been developing new marketing materials for Country Comforts Assisted Living. That got me thinking about all the grandmas and grandpas that have lived with us for assisted living over the years. I remembered that promise to Abbey’s previous owner. Yes, Abbey has been fortunate to have all those grandmas and grandpas to pet her.

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

But Abbey isn’t the only one who’s been fortunate. Mim and I are the “middle generation” between Abbey and these grandmas and grandpas. We’ve been blessed with all these “moms” and “dads.” Most people get only one mom and one dad. Over the past ten years we’ve had almost twenty“moms” and three “dads.” How fortunate is that – to get all these bonus moms and dads after our own were no longer with us!

What prompted me to develop new marketing materials for Country Comforts is the fact that this year we changed our focus from general assisted living care to end-of-life care. When people draw near to the end of their life, often they choose to receive hospice care at home with their loved ones taking care of them. A hospice organization can provide help, but the majority of caregiving is done by family members. Sometimes, family members are not able to give the end-of-life care at home that their loved one needs. That’s where Country Comforts can help. Rather than going to a nursing home, their loved one can move into our home where we will provide the skilled and attentive care they need. We will work together with the hospice organization of the family’s choice to care for the loved one and help coordinate a wide range of end-of-life issues – physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and legal. Our role is to support the resident and their family in any way we can.

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

While putting together brochures to explain the end-of-life care we want to provide, I went through pictures of many of these special people who have entered our lives over the past ten years. Our lives really have been enriched by each person who has lived with us. One whole section of the book I wrote about hospitality (Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest) is about the people who have lived with us for assisted living. In the book, I tell a one- or two-page story about each person. I’ve re-read that section of the book many times to let my mind spend more time remembering each one. (You can find more information about the book at http://mariankorth.com/come-lord-jesus.html.)

Some of these bonus grandmas (or moms, depending on your perspective) are pictured here. More of them are included on our Country Comforts website (www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com). I redesigned the website last weekend to reflect our new focus. If you take a peek at the website and are confused by any explanations that are unclear or find any bad links, please let me know. I’ll appreciate any suggestions you may have to make our website better. We want to be sure Abbey never runs out of the endless supply of grandmas we promised her.