Saints Among Us: Of Grandmothers, Nuns and Pea Soup

GETTING (5)Joining us here for today’s reflection is my friend, Shanda Blue Easterday. Shanda is a professor of composition and British literature and is a poet. Her latest work, “The Beekeeper’s Wife”, is available on Amazon.

Because I grew up in a dysfunctional family with alcoholic parents, I looked elsewhere for role models. Luckily, my maternal grandmother lived just a house away from us for many years. When things got crazy at our house, or when I was frustrated by my babysitting uncle’s pea soup, I could run to her house for relief. As far as the pea soup was concerned, the adults caught on to that trick and made a rule that I was not allowed to abandon lunch at home in favor of a possible bologna sandwich at Grandma’s house.  Otherwise, I spent much quality time with my grandmother, who taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life.

“Grandma Gene” taught me how to crochet and that opened a pathway so I could teach myself to knit as an adult.  Now I spend many therapeutic hours doing one or the other. Grandma also taught me to love books.  She had a collection of Gene Stratton Porter’s novels that I could read whenever I wanted. I learned about the Boy and the Girl of the Limberlost and, when I am transplanting pieces of Iris around our woods and wetlands, I am reminded of them.  Maybe that’s why I married a beekeeper.

My grandmother taught me many other practical matters that I remember as I cook and keep house daily.  One of those things is to clean my stove top after every use.  This is easily done and keeps grime from building up to an intolerable or hard-to-clean problem.  Sometimes my husband asks me where I learned something particularly helpful, and I must answer “From my grandma.”

My grandmother would give me some change and send me walking a few blocks to the “Five and Dime” to buy rolls of border trim wallpaper for her living-room or dining-room.  If those rolls didn’t exactly match it was no problem for her, as long as they were in the same color family. That memory makes me more patient with my own grandchildren as they work on projects and get paint on the dining-room table or my favorite apron.

My grandparents were not perfect people. At big family dinners, where my grandfather and most male members of the family could be counted on to be drunk and become unruly, I was often the distraction for my grandfather.  Because I was the most quiet, patient child, some adult would seat me on grandpa’s lap and he would go through the set of A Child’s World encyclopedia from his bookcase.  He would ask me what interested me that day then he would elaborate on what the encyclopedia had to say on that topic.  Many years later I inherited that set of encyclopedia.  Because I was not the only grandchild to read them, the books were well used but I could remember where some of those scars came from.   Usually they were the result of eating while reading, one of my favorite occupations still.

My grandparents died when I was in my teens so I went forward in life, adopting other role models as I felt moved to do so.  One favorite was a woman who would never be a grandmother.  She was a nun, Sister Consilia Danyi. She was an outstanding artist and professor who taught at Ancilla College in Donaldson, IN.  She taught me quiet confidence and encouraged my patience.  She also taught me that my talent might be in writing, not painting. My oldest daughter is named after her, and my younger daughter is named after Grandma Genevieve.

Sr. Consilia was a welcome antidote for the nuns I remembered from a stay in an orphanage when my parents abandoned me and my three siblings in Santa Fe, NM.  (We were reunited after many frightening months of separation.)  Those nuns washed my mouth out with lye soap for a “language usage problem” and held my frost-bitten hands under painfully warm water to thaw them out after leaving me too long on the playground without mittens. I’m sure they meant well, but the experience was frightening.

Over many years I have adopted other women’s mothers and grandmothers as role models, but the one I think of most fondly is my own grandma.

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