Matriarchy

My maternal and paternal grandmothers are very different from one another, but they are both very dear to me. And I miss them quite a bit.

Growing up I was most familiar with Grandma Rex, as we would see her at least once a year during branding season, and often more than that. As I child I remember being gathered around her tiny kitchen table with my siblings when Grandma Rex was making large quantities of wheat bread. She would always hand each of us a small wad of warm, spongy dough and let us do what we wanted with it.

As I grew up I became more familiar with her formidable will. When she grew older we used to say the reason she lived so long was because God wasn’t ready quite yet for her to be up there telling him how to run things.

Grandma Rex had a wonderful generous heart along with her strong opinions. She was tiny, but she was powerful and brave. She raised 11 children in some of the most unforgiving climate in the country (Randolph routinely is the coldest place in the nation during winter) back when times were physically hard, caring for and feeding the family and ranch hands without running water or any modern convenience.

Later, after losing my uncle in the war, grandmother took her power and persuasion beyond local and state politics and was involved with the national MIA-POW campaigns. She was a force to be reckoned with her entire life.

I still recall a quiet Sunday a few weeks before Grandma Rex died. We were taking turns spelling my aunts who’d been caring for her and Grandma and I were watching professional golf. Phil Mikkelsen won the Masters. All this time I’d known my grandmother and I never knew she enjoyed golf!

A favorite story about Pearl is one told at her funeral. Apparently one day she had been slaving over a hot stove preparing dinner for the masses and my grandfather (and the ranch hands at his command) was late. And grandmother was not happy. When he finally arrived she proceeded to give him a piece of her mind and he swept her up off her feet, twirled her around, and planted a great big kiss on her lips. That was an effective way to get some peace and quiet, apparently.

Grandma Jacobs was also a tiny woman, but she was quiet. The whole time I knew her she quietly looked after my grandfather, standing back from the limelight, quietly running the seamlessly tight ship in which my grandfather thrived.

While she did visit us in Oregon a couple of times, I best remember driving down to see her in San Diego every few years. I still remember being awed at her patience as six kids tracked sand in to her immaculate home after a day at the beach. We used to joke that Grandma Jacobs would have your water cup washed and put away almost before you were finished drinking out of it.

This was the grandmother who would send me a dime for every book I read over summer break. And also the grandmother with whom I credit for giving me a testimony of the law of tithing. When I was in college Grandma Jacobs had a gift for sending me $10 seemingly randomly but uncannily every time I was looking at a week with no money for food because I had paid my tithing first.

When Grandpa Jacobs retired, they sold their San Diego home and moved to Orem, where, as they grew older it was the privilege and blessing of my family to help serve and care for them. Eventually they moved into a senior living center, where we also spent a good deal of time visiting them.

One of my favorite things about Grandma Jacobs was that she loved me for me, as is, and without judgment. I remember she used to come to my messy house and tell me how wonderful I was for spending time holding my babies–even when they slept. She recalled with sadness how when she was a young mother doctors warned mothers against spoiling their babies by holding them. The thought broke both our hearts.

We were all so worried about Grandma Jacobs after Grandpa died. What would she do without the person who had been the focus of her attention her entire life?

She blossomed! At 80-something years old she bloomed into herself, making new friends, and we were all so delighted! Though opposites, she and my husband’s Uncle Hilton became and remained good friends until he passed away.

A few months before she died, I remember being curled up next to her on her bed, where she had been mostly unconscious throughout the day. I truly thought it was her last day. I was thinking about a particular child of mine who had been struggling. I silently thought to myself as if to her, “Grandma, be sure and come back and give “Jane” a kick in the pants now and then after you go.”

Grandma’s eyes opened wide for the first time that day and she asked, “How’s Jane?!”

[Day 27 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

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