Friday, October 19, 2012

Sometimes wonderful grandparents aren’t our flesh and blood

I remember sitting in her old overstuffed chair, talking. She was a good listener.  She allowed the brimming heart of a little girl to flow freely, without judgment. She understood kids, and was a kid at heart.

Nettie Rackham lived a block and half away from our family in Teton City, Idaho.  Maybe it was after our maternal grandmother died when I was nine that we started calling her “Grandma Rackham” instead of “Mrs. Rackham.”

We dearly loved our own grandparents, but they didn’t live close by, and they were dead by the time I was 13.  Nettie wasn’t our real grandma, but she filled an important place in our lives.

I remember her curly gray hair, pulled back into a bun, and her long sharp fingernails.  I enjoyed watching how she used her hands differently than we short-nailed Nelsons. 

Grandma met her husband at the age of 14, a skinny girl pushing a her brother in a baby carriage to a “medicine show.”  Chloe courted her as she tended her younger siblings after her mother’s untimely death.

They married and raised their kids before and during the Great Depression.  She gave birth to her first child by herself on an isolated homestead.  She said she was scared the whole time they lived there, but she certainly did some courageous things with snakes and other challenges. 

Once she showed me her photo as a young girl, taken around 1915. She looked like a “Gibson Girl” with a lovely hairdo.  I asked her how she was able to fix it that way.

“Oh, we stuck it up in all kinds of messes and jammed pins into it,” she said.

Our Mama was an attentive neighbor to this little lady who no longer had a driver’s license, but at the heart of it, they were friends.  One day when my youngest sister was three, she noticed that Mama had dozed off during their naptime.

What an opportunity!  Shanan slipped out of the house.

Mama jumped up, saw where Shanan was headed and called Grandma. When Shanan entered, she told Grandma she wanted to play.  In some gentle way, Grandma got her up on her settee covered with an ancient patchwork quilt and Shanan took a nap.

Mama wanted us to do things for Grandma Rackham because we loved her and it would do us good, but Grandma was firm.  She had needs, and we kids filled them—it was a business proposition for her to pay us to get her mail and grocery items from the Teton Merc.

She rolled a quarter out of an Alka Seltzer bottle to pay us—we protested, but not much. Grandma was our source of spending money until we got old enough to babysit, when we got paid .25 or .35 an hour.

We spent them on penny candy—bubble gum, jawbreakers, malt balls, Smarties, and lollipops.

She may not have been a blood Grandma, but she was a real one.

If you had a memorable grandparent—remember to write about them!