Learning from our grandmothers

January 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm Leave a comment

We learn about who we are by exploring the history of our family. Storyteller Dan Yashinksy says in Suddenly There Were Footsteps that he is connected to his ancestors by stories his grandmother brought over from her native country.  He said that was almost all she brought with her.

I, that sense, I have been fortunate. I  have learned about my grandparents by spending time with them in their homes or their visits with us, albeit one grandmother more than the other.

Needing to know more about my history for my own book, I asked a lot of questions, asked for stories too. Some of them were uncovered as my parents shared their own memories the year of their 60th wedding anniversary.

My father’s parents moved off the farm when I was a small child and went to live  in the city. Because of that and since they went to Florida every winter for a number of my early years, I didn’t spend as much time with Grandma Flora as I had with my other grandmother. Grandma Flora died when I was twelve. She was 75 years old.

The time of story sharing and asking questions was one of discovery. I asked family members— my father, his sister and my mother. Grandma Flora had  grown up on a farm, moved to the city with her parents when they sold the farm. Then as a young adult, she worked in a special order  of a department store where she would have honed her sewing skills and learned millinery— hat making.

Ted and Flora Wilhelm on their wedding day 1951

My father’s parents on their wedding day.

Credit: family photo collection.

While I’m not a hat maker in the millinery sense, Grandma Flora’s attention to detail was as important in her work as it was to me in my business, and now as I edit the work of other writers. The few family photos we have show Grandma Flora dressed attractively, and her daughters were too.

My dad says that she would have been embarassed about the school photo. My father had not told her about their picture day, and so the day the photo was taken, he was wearing a safety pin on his overalls where the fastener had broken. She would have been sure to fix that ahead, if she had known.

But it wasn’t only in her sewing where careful attention to detail was important. After marriage, she and my grandfather moved to a farm. She kept a large garden to feed her family, canning food for winter as the harvest produced more than they could eat over the summer and fall.

She liked beauty and order in her home, using pretty wallpaper to decorate the older house. She was also involved for a time with the Women’s Institute, thus being interested in happenings beyond her home and in her community.

William and Ardena, wedding photo

My maternal grandparents on their wedding day

Credit: Family photo collection

My maternal grandmother, Grandma Ardena, lived longer. She was in her 80s when she died and so we had much more time together. From her, I learned how to make pancakes, tie a comforter, and watched her at her crocheting and tatting, when she had time for it. When I lived with my grandparents one summer, we played card games together. My crocheting lessons with her don’t count. I wanted to learn, but I just wasn’t ready then.

True, I have learned more about Grandma Ardena since then, and with maturity, have understood her better—her sense of humour and the way she went about things—and about her life as a farmer’s wife and mother of eight children. So I could say I learned more from Grandma Ardena, but that’s just the way life worked.

If you have the opportunity, ask questions. What do you know about your family? What have  you learned about them or from them? How does it affect the way you live your life and pass on stories to your succeeding generation?


Entry filed under: family, fine arts, friendship, relationships. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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