Nona, her name, or at least the name she was willing to tell us. Her “real” name had something to do with Rosa or Rosabelle but she was not going let us call her that and never explained why to our satisfaction. She was my grandmother.
Three of my brothers and I were born in succession, two years apart, to a young mom who was thrust into childrearing almost before she was done being a child herself. We also lived in semi-isolation in the country. We desperately needed a good grandmother and fortunately, my dad’s mother, Nona, was that person. She and grandpa lived fairly close to town so it was a grateful mother who would drop us kids off to play in safety while she did grocery shopping or errands.
Grandma was always glad to see us come, always had a smile for us, gave us freedom to play and explore outside and seemed to be waiting for us to come in and have story time. She commonly sat at the kitchen table for letter writing and other work but come story time she would move to her recliner. We would grab a handful of books from the shelf in the stairwell and pile on top of her and the chair and listen as long as she would read. Peter Rabbit, Elmer Fudd, and other Little Golden Books were our well-worn favorites.
Grandma Nona wore an apron, the kind that goes over the head and covers the front of the dress, because she wore dresses all the time and they needed to be kept stain free. The apron only came off when she left the house to go to town or when pictures were being taken. It was a functional piece of clothing, used to carry everything from eggs gathered in the coop, to asparagus picked along the fence row. Besides the apron, her “grandma uniform” was pretty consistent – the same kind of dress, thick flesh-colored stockings, the same type of shoes. Once my aunts got her to wear a polyester pantsuit which she liked and acknowledged as comfortable, but I never saw her wear it again. She was probably saving it for “good” like all the other new things given to her as gifts.
Grandma stopped going to church when I was very young. She stayed home and cooked dinner for us, on her wood fired cook stove. We would arrive shortly after noon, to a very warm kitchen, where we sat down to fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garden vegetables, rhubarb sauce or some other dessert. Grandma baked her own bread and was also know for her cookies which were kept in a tightly covered lard can in the cupboard under the sink. All girls, including me, washed dishes after the meal, dried them and put them away. The vegetable trimmings, kept in a “swill pail” under the handwashing sink, would be taken out to the chickens or thrown on the garden. Then a couple of hours of quiet play would ensue while the grownups digested, slept or read.
Even when I went away to college, grandma was one of my strongest supporters. She would write to me regularly, as well as writing to each of her three daughters every week. When I would visit home she would watch out the kitchen window for me to come down her driveway. She would sit at the table with me, smiling, and listen to everything I could tell her about school, home, my life. I remember after I was married, bringing my firstborn daughter to grandma and setting the baby in her lap as she sat in the recliner. “Little sweetie” she called her. Somewhere there is a picture of that.
I miss her now. I think of many things I would ask her if I had the chance to do it, deeper subjects, questions that no one who knew her seems to be able to answer. I’m just sayin’, if you have a grandma, an aunt, a mom, who is close to you, have those conversations while you can. They are precious.