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I STILL haven't unpacked my photos, so I don't have one of my grandmother. This is me, a few years older than when I "axed Mamie's floor!"

One of my earliest memories is sitting in a pool of Wesson Oil, smacking my hands on the linoleum floor my grandmother had just waxed. When my grandmother, I called her Mamie, told me this story, she said she walked into her kitchen to see me smearing Wesson Oil around with my hands and saying, “Axing Mamie’s floors! I’m axing Mamie’s floors!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother, wishing I could tell her how much I admired her strength and thank her for being my role model.

Her name was Dorathy, with an “a,” not an “o,” and she was a strong, no nonsense woman. Her parenting skills, raising my father, were this side of Gestapo tactics, but I don’t remember her ever scolding me, even when I’d ruined my pretty dress and made a mess of her floor that day.

By the time I was born, Dorathy was divorced and a working woman in a time when both were a rarity. Regardless of the circumstances, women were expected to stick it out. While I don’t know both sides of the story, I doubt she was the “little woman,” waiting at home to satisfy her husband’s every need and my grandfather… Let’s just say he was a good-looking man who went from town to town in the midwest, selling Encyclopedia Britannica.

During my father’s last weeks with terminal cancer, Mamie came to live with us and be near him. After he died both Mamie and mother were devastated, but while mother fell apart, I knew Mamie’s grief wouldn’t take her down for the count. At some point, two women in the house became more than either could handle, and Mamie went home. From then on, she and I visited one another frequently and/or talked on the phone every Saturday morning until the week she died. She was in her early 90’s.

While there wasn’t much love lost between Mamie and mother, Mamie never spoke ill of mother to me. In fact it was Mamie who would always ask, “When’s the last time you talked to your mother? You should call her, Brenda. She’s your mother!”

When Mamie retired, she was head of the Air Force Reserve personnel records for the Air Force Finance Center in Denver—an impressive job for a woman of any generation. When she was in her late 70’s or early 80’s, she went back to college and took writing and english classes. She loved those classes! I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t as impressed as I should have been. I now realize how brave that was of her. Women didn’t do that then, either.

My grandmother’s dresser, which was my father’s when he was a little boy, is upstairs in my guest room. The drawers are still lined with the paper liners she placed there, and every time I open one, I smell her favorite perfume, Elsa Schiaparelli’s “Shocking Pink.” It always makes me smile because I know she’s part of me. Sometimes I say, “Hi, Mamie!” Other times I’m melancholy because there were so many things I should have asked her, shared with her, told her… In many ways her examples made me a stronger woman. I also know without her, I would have had a very different life. I love you, Mamie! Thank you.

Do you have a grandmother who influenced your life? Are you a grandmother who will have a positive impact on your grandchild’s life?

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  1. A very nice tribute to Mamie. I also had a strong relationship with my maternal Grandmother “Munno” and it surely was a huge influence on my life. We are both fortunate to have had those women in our lives.

  2. I have 13-grandchildren and my husband and I are on a mission to create as many memories with them as possible.
    My grandmother was cranky, my grandfather was a gambler so I think she was always afraid. I loved her, learned from her and miss her. I wish she would have been happier.

    • You’ve had a tough family life, Doreen, and I know it’s far from over, but you’ve given so much to your family, your community and people you didn’t even know. You have my admiration. xoxox, Brenda

  3. I lived with my grandparents off and on during my childhood, between my mother’s marriages or sometimes because of them. Mamaw was my role model for the kind of wife I wanted to be. She had an independent streak but was clearly devoted to my grandfather and he to her. I could not have survived my childhood without them. Your tribute is beautiful, Brenda.

    • Just among the women I know who’ve had difficult childhoods, like you and me, I wonder what percentage had a “Leave it to Beaver” kind of family? Based on what I know, I’d say it’s shockingly smaller than we’d like to think. Either that, or we all somehow manage to find befriend one another. xoxox, Brenda

  4. This is lovely, Brenda! Having one grandmother influencing my life and being the grandmother to four makes me want to be the very best I can be for our Grands. I wouldn’t have made it through college without a time of living with Gram. She was strong, disciplined but interesting and fun. She played harmonica, guitar and danced a jug on a couple of songs. Then she taught herself the Spanish Fandango and played it backwards. The backwards version was ‘Ima’s Song’. Your Mamie and she were cut from the same cloth. Gram raised her seven children in a farm after her husband died when her youngest was a toddler. So many memories you have brought to mind with this column!

    • Gram was indeed a strong woman! Even so, she must have been scared and/or worried to be left with seven kids and a farm. I love that she kept growing and having fun and imparting her strength to you. Gram and Mamie were amazing women! Thanks for telling me about her, Brenda

  5. That is such a lovely tribute to your “Mamie”. I only had one living grandmother until I was 9 when she died and I felt that I was always missing something really important. Now, I have the twins (who will be three in a few months) and I am bound and determined to be a huge part of their lives. I spend as much time as I can possibly can with them. It seems I have way more patience than I ever did with their mother. I was imagining my granddaughter “waxing” my floors as you did and find I could only laugh about it as well. I hope my granddaughter feels about me the way that you feel about yours.

    • I have no doubt that you’re a wonderful grandmother because you’re doing it intentionally and that desire makes all the difference in the world. Twins! Oh, my stars! Such a great age. From what I’ve gotten to know about you in our limited comments, Rena, they will always speak with love about you. xoxox, Brenda

  6. I, too, have a memory of my grandma’s linoleum floors: My grandma and grandpa lived next door to us, and I loved it! My mom would say to me, “Grandma needs her kitchen floor cleaned!” And that’s all she had to say. I would go next door and scrub the floor on my hands and knees and then wax it with a mop. Grandma was always so thankful and would try to give me money, which I’d resist…but she’d win in the end. She was so proud of that shiny blue floor!

    Most of my fond memories of her take place on that warm, cozy, light-filled kitchen. We’d bake cookies together and I always got the make the frosting and push my thumb in to make the thumbprint cookies! They melt in your mouth, they were so good. And unlike Mom, Grandma didn’t care if I made a mess while baking. She taught me how to clean it up.

    The other thing I loved was when the “ladies” of the neighborhood all got together in Grandma’s kitchen and sat around her yellow Formica kitchen table to drink coffee, gossip, and catch-up with one another. They always let me sit in and be a part of it, and I loved it. It was really teaching me the importance of having a strong female community of friends.

    Grandma had a stroke when I was 8-months pregnant with my eldest daughter and I used to drive the 40 miles from my town to the hospital everyday, just begging and praying for her to wake up. She did, and she even got to enjoy her great-granddaughter in her own way after the stroke left her unable to walk or speak. But she could still smile! She lingered in the nursing home for a few years, and sometimes it was hard to see her in so much discomfort. I miss her SO much!

    • Oh, Val! Thanks for sharing her with me. She sounds like the ideal grandmother. Mine had a formica kitchen table as well. It was robin’s egg blue. You must have felt special to be included in her coffee visits with her friends. Grandmothers who work outside the home don’t have the same time, energy to be able to spend that kind of time with their grandchildren, plus families are more scattered these days. There’s a lot to be said for “close” families. My grandmother died suddenly in her 90’s, so I didn’t have to watch her linger like you did, but her death surprised me. At that age, it shouldn’t have, but she was still so vital and had so much to say. Yes, I still miss her. xoxox, Brenda

  7. One of my grandmothers had already passed years before I was born, but I got to spend some time with my other one before she went to a nursing home when I was around seven. So I can’t say that either one influenced me. But my son, who is in his late 20’s, still has a living grandmother (my mother in law) and has been able to spend time with her. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

    • That’s wonderful! Grandmothers! They are so special. Wonder if your mother-in-law did “The Twist?” Your blog this week was so much fun! Loved it. xoxox, Brenda

  8. What a beautiful tribute to your ‘Mamie’. I adored my Grandmother and miss her every day, in some ways I feel her absence even more keenly now than when she first died. When she passed away I asked Dad for the letters I’d sent to her as we corresponded regularly when I left my home state and then later, when I moved to the UK. His Evil Sister said she never found any letters from me, but I know she was lying, Grandma kept all her correspondence! Last year my ex-husband contacted me to say he had some personal effects to send me, I had no idea what they could be and nearly said, “Don’t bother” but I’m so glad I didn’t because one item was a box of letters from my Grandma – I thought they’d been lost in a move. These are so precious to me, I wish I had treasured her more when she was alive, we always think we’ll have more time. I watch my dear Mum with her grandkids, sadly she’s not close to all of them as some are actually older than my two youngest sisters (my siblings and I span an age difference of 26 years!), but she’s amazing with the youngest three and is so intentional about the time she spends with them and the things she does with them to make beautiful memories. It makes me so happy to know my three young nieces have a Grandmother they adore! Essie xx

    • Essie, I love the family stories women are relating here on the blog. There’s a little bit of everything and it goes to validate something I wondered in an earlier post.. How many of us had ideal family relationships? Not many, I fear. It’s good to know your Mum is close to some of her grandchildren. I know from watching my best friend and her grandchildren that it’s not always easy to form those tight bonds due to geographical distance, even daughter-in-laws who make it difficult for them to form a relationship. That’s sad… Keep me posted about when you leave on your adventure! Love you, Brenda

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