Once upon a time, (because that is how all good fairy tales start,)
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was an old woman.
She wasn’t a particularly striking old woman. She was small, and a bit stout. She had thick white hair that curled up from her forehead in waves. She had cool, white, powdery skin. Her warm hazel eyes sparkled from behind silver framed bifocals.
The old woman was my Gram.
Gram wasn’t particularly noticeable to most people, I don’t suppose. I’ve been noticing myself how easily ignored you are when you get to be a woman of a certain age, and I suppose that she had found the same thing to be true. And while Gram never wanted to be the center of attention in a crowd, I know that she DID like it when people paid attention to her.
She was a little bright bird sitting in the trees in a deep shady forest. You might not notice her, at first, but when you learned to sit quietly and pay attention, she would peek out of the brush and chirp a bit, and make you feel glad deep in your heart.
I learned a lot of things from my Gram, and she helped form the person in my mind that I aspire to become. Well… it wasn’t ONLY Gram that helped form that person… it was also other people in the recipe for the “super me” I wish I was. But I guess I’ll get to that later. Right now, I’m talking about Gram.
Gram told the BEST stories. She started off with the babies, right off the bat, cooing at them and talking to them and reciting nursery rhymes. There is a nursery rhyme for every occasion; I bet you didn’t know that, did you?
When the babies got a little older – but before they could talk – she would take out her teeth at them.
Yup, that’s what I said. Gram had a lovely smile, but it was fake. She had gotten dentures at a very young age, and she was embarrassed about them. She slept with them in, and never took them out; no one EVER saw her without her teeth and told the tale… but babies, now that was different. They couldn’t tell. They would laugh, and coo, and reach for her face – but they didn’t have the words to tell anyone what they saw. Only once in a while did I catch her, when she didn’t see me looking, in the middle of her funny face no teeth act for a baby. She would have been embarrassed if she knew I’d seen her.
After a while, as a child got older, Gram told stories that were longer and more complicated. She told fairy tales with a relish, changing her voice for each of the parts. She could recite long poems from memory, thanks to her education in a one room school house in the hills. And, at times… especially times when family gathered around the kitchen table for tea and coffee after dinner… she told family stories.
The family stories were the best. They were funny and tender and slightly mature, which really kept a young child – me – enthralled. After an amazing meal – maybe a pot roast, with a thick rich brown gravy, sweet carrots and onions and potatoes sprinkled with black pepper, bread and butter, and apple sauce, and always – always – a green vegetable too! – everyone sat back and talked. It was the era right after smoking became unpopular, but it wasn’t yet looked down on like it is now. So a cigarette was lit, and coffee and tea was made for those who wanted it. My uncle Pete asked me if I wanted some ice cream to go with the gravy left over from dinner. It was dark and glossy brown and maybe could have been chocolate sauce, if it wasn’t actually beef gravy. Besides, who could eat another bite? And the conversation flowed around the table. “Remember when Momma run off the peddler with a shot gun? Hey, how ‘bout that time that Lewis came home with that poor boy from the railroad?”
And so, that is how it all started. It started with a story. Once upon a time.
But, of course, there was a before that time, and there is also an after that time. And that is the story I would like to try to tell.