Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Journal Entry

Sometimes (not often for me) an insight into why I might be attracted to an idea or "way of being in the world" occurs to me with clear logic and not a little emotion. Last night was one of those occasions.

I think it started when I popped into the Salvation Army store on my way home from work. I was looking for something I'd seen there some time ago but hadn't purchased at that time. Of course, the item was no longer there. So, I scanned the shelves anyway and noticed some older Pyrex mixing bowls that were like my grandma's and which my mother now uses. (Here's a link, for the moment, to a picture of similiar bowls, although I recall the yellow one most strongly.) I didn't buy them—it wasn't a full set—but the bowls brought my grandmother to mind.

Later, at home, I read ahead to the Isaiah lectionary reading assigned for next Sunday, Isaiah 51:1-6. The second part of verse 1 grabbed me: "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged." [RSV] I know the context of the chapter is very far removed from the personal life of JBB, but I set aside academic hesitations and let my memory run with the verse.

I think I'm like my grandmother in many ways and recognized that some of my present yearnings and dreams come from being hewn out of the same rock as she. Because I lived overseas for much of my growing up years, I did not spend a lot of time with her as a child.

However, I remember Grade Three, when my family came back to the States for one year and lived in my grandparents' house, while they moved next door to the one-bedroom cottage. One of the activities the children did with my grandmother was gather various leaves from the yard and woods, press them under piles of phone boxes until they dried, then tape them into a handmade book, and carefully label them. My grandmother told stories of when she was a school teacher in the mid- to late-1930s and would take her pupils on nature walks. My grandmother believed strongly that children should take piano lessons. That year was also my first year of piano lessons.

In Grade Six, we were again in the States, although we lived in another house. My grandmother started some sewing projects with me, embroidering flour sack dish towels (from flour sacks she had saved) and stamping quilt blocks to be embroidered and made into a quilt.

I remember my grandmother gardening, cooking, baking rolls and desserts, canning fruit and green beans, freezing berries, making her shopping list from the grocery store ads to get the best prices, looking after her day care children, sitting at the rickety card table in the middle of the kitchen writing letters to missionaries with her feet soaking in a pan of warm water and epsom salts, reading a devotional at the breakfast table and my grandfather restlessly clearing his throat if her prayer went on too long, washing laundry in the Maytag wringer washer machine and hanging most of it to dry on the clotheslines under the apple trees, going to church on Wednesdays and twice on Sundays.

The tears came as I remembered the difficulty of one year, in particular, that I lived with her during college. I lived with my grandparents my senior year of high school and then again my first year of college, after a year in England in between. That second year, my grandfather was ill with leukemia and died in the spring. My grandmother cared for him at home, except when he had to go into the hospital.

I don't remember many specific exchanges now, but I would get very upset at my grandmother's dogmatism about certain issues and would often argue with her, even when I agreed with her position, just to oppose her. Part of my opposition was to what I perceived as her judgment of other people who looked at things differently than she. Part of the situation was a sense of being caught between her and her sometimes-expressed disapproval of her daughters-in-law. Much of tension, I'm sure, came out of the sadness and strain of caring for my grandfather that my grandmother must have felt and the guilt I felt for not helping her more. But I wasn't grown up enough to be able to deal very gracefully with all that then.

Even much later when my grandmother was in a nursing home, I regret not spending more time talking with her about her life. Fortunantely, there's still much I can learn about her from my mother and her brothers. But right now I really miss my grandma.

It struck me last night that it was around the twentieth anniversary of my grandfather's death when I was in Washington this past spring taking pictures of my grandparents' farm.

So maybe these thoughts of moving back to the farm are not merely the urgings of a restless spirit ready to try the next new adventure but the longings of a life "looking to the rock from which it was hewn."

My grandmother, summer of 1982

(The picture is small and blurry, but I had to post one. So I searched for a snapshot, hooked up an old scanner, downloaded drivers, used my digital camera software to display and crop the scanned picture, and posted it.)

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