Linguist Friend suggested I put this up:
I was reading an essay yesterday about how America has lost its sense of community. It was standard stuff. The gentleman who wrote it said nobody knows the old skills, we don’t know out neighbors. You’ve probably read such an essay yourself at some point.
Last night, as I tried to write out what I would say this morning, the issues the essay raised had me thinking about my grandmother. Juanita Williams really spanned two worlds. Born a Texas farm girl before the great depression, died an accomplished woman in a suburb of the most powerful city in the world. My grandmother had a job long before it was fashionable for women to have one. She loved to try new things.
But the Welsh say “What’s bred in the bone will out in the flesh” and the old ways of life were definitely bred in my grandmother’s bones. She liked technological things, but her favorites were always the gadgets that helped her to better sew and cook. She was very impressed with the George Foreman grill, for example, and bought them for many of her friends and family.
She retained those farmgirl instincts. My grandmother believed in spanking, sterilizing things, repairing torn clothes rather than throwing them away, getting every possible use out of everything, growing her own food and buying seventeen rolls of paper towels when she found them on sale.
Her closest friends were people at this church and the lady across the street. She loved to dicker at yard sales. She was ambivalent about my husband at first, but became really fond of him when she learned he has a knack for fixing household appliances. To my grandmother, marrying a man who knew how to fix things made a lot of sense.
My grandmother remembered a time when people took pride in what they did and demanded a high standard of the people around her. I used to sit in restaurants with her silently hoping the waiter paid proper attention to her instructions and brought us our food quickly and efficiently. If not, my grandmother would never hesitate to give him a lesson in the proper way to do his job.
Doing things, being active, was a very central part of who my grandmother was and it was very hard to watch her become unable to sew, then to read, then to cook. She moved around her house as though she could see, and kept her independence as long as she could. She was upset when she could no longer wash the dishes. She wanted to be active and useful.
I can’t say I’m sorry that her suffering is over, but I deeply regret the ending of a creative and useful life, a life very much lived on my grandmother’s own terms.