I couldn't find any photos of my grandma with her fox stole but it was so fun looking through the old family photos and re-seeing my grandma. She died in 1980 (I think), right after I had left Michigan to live in Santa Cruz, California. We are a very large, unsentimental family and I didn't go back for her funeral. That was the way we did things but now that I am my own person with a larger view of the world, I would definitely go and I know that I should have gone.
I loved and respected my grandma. I knew she was cranky sometimes and I knew she was a little bit comical with her blue-grey hair and her terrible baking skills (she would give us muffins that we would use as ammunition in play wars), and the way she would stay in the kitchen long after a meal, eating the leftovers while she cleaned up. But I felt very close to her and intrigued by her.
The grandchildren would get to stay over in sets of two or three for weeks sometimes. I stayed with my cousins Maureen and Kathleen who were twins. We stayed in the backroom in a big bed with a white chenille bedspread. My grandma taught me the proper way to puff a pillow and make a bed. There was a crucifix over the bed that opened up and there was a small "relic" inside a little compartment and some "holy water". We were not supposed to touch it but we could not resist. At bedtime my grandpa would come in and tell us a story about leprechauns. he would say not to get out of bed or they would bite our feet. We were terrified but thrilled by the magic.
They gave us oatmeal or cornflakes every morning and my grandpa would always try to trick us into drinking butter milk - we never fell for it because we could smell it a mile away. They always had coffee percolating in a stainless coffee pot on the table and we had orange juice. The sun would shine in on the little kitchen table and onto the little shelves filled with my grandma's extremely cool salt and pepper shaker collection. It seemed like a little piece of heaven. To this day, I only like oatmeal the way my grandpa prepared it - thick but unstirred, a little salty, a dab of butter in the middle, a sprinkle of brown sugar, and milk floating on top.
My grandma taught me how to knit. We played with her button box, and her fox. She washed our hair in her sink in the basement. We visited the two bachelor brothers and their poodles who lived next door. We walked to the Kresge's dime store and she would let us each pick out some little thing. I would find some toy for literally about a dime. We were always well behaved but we had so much fun in what seemed to us an adventure away from our parents.
As I look at these pictures, I realize how much I am like my grandma, how much I was influenced by her. She was an individual, a strong woman, with dreams and aspirations. She left her home in Ireland to start a life in "the New World". She always cared about her appearance even when she was old. She had taste and style even if we didn't always understand or appreciate it. She loved her family. She loved to have a crowd together to eat and talk and laugh.
I miss her. Time and distance give one perspective but it is important to think about the whole story even when you are in the drudgery of some of the immediate moments.