September is Grandparents Month and we’ve asked some of our resident writers to share their experiences and thoughts about grandparenthood.
Written by Panorama resident, Judy Murphy. August 2014
I have not had the privilege of playing a large role in the life of grandchildren, but I have many memories of being a grandchild because my father’s mother lived with us when I was in elementary school.
Grandma Wolf had traveled by covered wagon from Iowa to west Texas in 1886, when she was 3. She had an unhappy childhood and escaped into marriage at the first opportunity. She and her husband operated a photography business in Texas and raised 4 children until his early death. His brothers persuaded Grandma (then known as the widow Goss) to buy a farm in the Ozarks of Arkansas, and there she met her second husband—Amos Wolf, the most eligible bachelor in the area, we were told—and she went on to have two more children before he died after a wagon accident when my father was 10.
My grandmother did not reach 5 feet, but she was tough and hard working. In family stories, she had shooed a cougar from her kitchen with a broom and had babies and gone back to work in the field the next day (more legend than fact, perhaps). During Depression times, she sold her farm and moved to Dallas, where she lived with her two young sons and took in boarders. After the war, she depended on her children for support, so when my parents moved from Florida to upstate New York in the 1950s she moved in with us to help with childcare when my mother went to work.
Besides her very short stature, and generous lap, she was notable for her beautiful, waist-length gray hair, which she dried in the sun in the backyard and then braided and wound around her head. She always wore calf-length dresses, corsets, heavy stockings, big black or white shoes and, more often than not, a flowered apron. She always donned a hat and gloves when going to church.
Because my baby sister was 5 years younger than me, and I had an older sister to play with, Grandma became 2-year-old Terry Sue’s companion. With her soft Southern accent, Grandma called her, “Tara Soo,” and they shared a bedroom for the next 4 years. My sister says, “I remember feeling I was such a lucky little girl because I shared my bedroom with my grandma….(somehow I am not sure she felt the same!).”
All three of us went home from school at lunchtime, and Grandma liked to fix us gravy sandwiches or fried mush (much to our mother’s consternation), and we would watch our favorite soap opera, “Guiding Light,” together before heading back to school.
As a traditional Southern cook, Grandma excelled in frying and baking. She loved to eat fat in any form (and despite having heart disease lived to be close to 90). Her baking powder and lard biscuits were sublime. She introduced us to a family recipe for potato and dumpling soup, which she called potato rivules. My dad and the three of us girls loved them, but my mother thought they were tasteless and refused to eat the dish as have every husband and grandchild since. Grandma invited us to lick the icing bowl and eat bits of pastry and apple peel when she was baking an apple pie, and the year our peach tree produced loads of peaches, she made delicious peach pies.
When she wasn’t baking, she spent much of her time doing crochet, and she was a master at her craft. She made us winter mufflers; delicate, cotton thread tablecloths and dresser scarves; and an enormous, very heavy woolen afghan.
Though strict in her Protestant religious views, she taught us to play dominoes, Michigan rummy, and most importantly a card game with the very un-Christian name of Cutthroat, which remains a valued sisterly tradition. Cutthroat created intense competition among us and stretched our eye-hand coordination as far as it could go, but Grandma remained the card-shark of the family.
Most of all, Grandma Wolf was a quiet, steady presence in my young sister’s often lonely life, providing her a sense of acceptance and security. Terry recalls Grandma’s personal ‘philosophy’:
- the ‘golden rule’ is important;
- there is always a silver lining to things;
- there is good in everyone and your job in life is to look for the best in people you meet and focus on that.
We were bereft when she moved back to Texas, tired of the cold and snow no doubt, and finding the stairs in our house increasingly difficult to manage. My sisters both made their way to Texas as adults to pay a visit, but I was never able to see her again. She remained a faithful letter writer, however, and we all looked forward to receiving those tissue envelopes with the flowery script bringing us news of our wonderful grandma. Yes, grandmothers are important.