Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Grandma Simmons

There is a story that I need to tell. It involves a topic that is so sacred to me, I don't want to write about it until my skill improves. I want to do it justice because to tell it improperly would be unforgivable. I placed it on a "Future Topics" list on my notepad and hoped to get around to it when I became more polished. 

Here's the problem: It won't leave me alone. I sit and try to focus on "My Garden," "My Love of the Cleveland Browns," and "Ghost Tours," but The Topic keeps butting in. It jumps up and down in my brain while I'm trying to sleep and shouts, "WRITE ME!" So I'm going to write that story today, even though I'm not ready. I'm also sleep deprived, haven't brushed my teeth yet, and am in great need of a shower. But The Topic is persistent and will not rest until this is done. So here goes...

I think just about everyone can name an endearing family member who had a profound effect on their childhood. My husband talks at great length about his Paw Paw who bought him his first tricycle and "popped" his toes. My friend has a great aunt who took her to her first live theater productions, inspiring her to pursue a life on the stage.

My siblings and I had Grandma Simmons. Grandma was our 4'10" maternal grandmother who lived with my grandfather in a tiny, post-war bungalow in Bedford, OH. Her daily uniform consisted of a cotton shift "housedress" and slippers. She wore her hair in a cute, short, straight bob. She always smelled of Sweetheart soap and Balm Barr hand lotion, except on special occasions when she'd spray on a little Emeraude cologne. She had this great, deep, silent laugh. Her shoulders would just bob up and down, you'd hear a quiet wheeze, and then her eyes would water. We LOVED setting off that laugh! My mother was an only child, so the five of us kids were her only grandchildren. This made us the luckiest children on the face of the earth.

As I've mentioned, ad nauseum, the Donnelly children were frequently referred to as a "group." My dad was one of five children, his mom one of thirteen (catholics!!), so there was never a shortage of aunts, uncles, cousins, and confusion over who was who. I've talked about my great desire to break out from the pack and be considered individual and special. Enter Grandma Simmons. To this day, I don't know if Grandma actually SAW this need and set-out to fill it, or if she was just doing her thing. I do know that so much of what I am now is a direct result of what she did for me back then, and I am forever grateful.

Here's a great example: Grandma color-coded. For instance, my favorite color has always been yellow. So Grandma had a yellow cup, yellow bowl, yellow towel, yellow floor cushion, all that were just for MY use. Laura's color was purple. Kathy's was green. I can assure you, while at Grandma's, I never ONCE took a sip from a purple cup. When colors weren't available, she'd pull out her bottle of bright red nail polish. We all had identical trick-or-treat pumpkins, except that mine had a tiny red "J" painted on the back. It probably seems silly, but I assure you it meant the world to me. Even our monkey swings were personalized. Monkey swings are large, round wooden discs that have a hole in the center through which a rope is threaded. We spent hours swinging on them from her enormous backyard tree. The wood was hard, so she designed cushions for each of them with brightly-colored chenille toilet lid covers. You guessed it, mine was yellow.

She cared for us individually in the way she played with each of us. I wanted to play with the many, many dolls she had in her walk-up attic, Laura wanted to throw a tea party with REAL liquid in her miniature tea set, Jack wanted to play in the "fort" she made out of sheets draped over a clothesline in her backyard. Grandma made it all happen.

Holidays were more than special at her house. She had a round dining room table that she would decorate with bunnies and ducks, turkeys and cornucopias, patriotic pinwheels, or pine cones and holly, depending on the time of year. December was her time to shine. I'm sure I will write countless more posts detailing the window stenciling, ornament making, and cookie baking that we did with her every Christmas season. She had one of those giant, silver aluminum trees that had a color wheel light illuminating it. We thought it was breathtaking. She and Grandpa would come to our house for Christmas dinner and we'd show her all the wonderful things from Santa that we had opened that morning. She'd inform us that she saw Santa the night before as well. Apparently he came to her place with presents for us. She told him she'd make sure we got them the next time we visited her. We had absolutely no problem believing that our magical grandmother had a direct conversation with the otherwise elusive Santa.

I think Grandma's greatest achievement was what she did for us on our birthdays. The weekend closest to our big day, we got to stay, by OURSELVES, at her house. No siblings allowed. We'd spend the night and catch the morning bus (Grandma didn't drive) to Southgate Shopping Center. We'd have lunch together at the dinette located in Sears, then shop for birthday presents. We usually ended up at Woolworth's dime store, where we'd purchase wonderful plastic treasures of toys and games. My frequent choice was doll clothes for Tubsy (Grandma LOVED Tubsy!). The rule was, though, that you also had to pick out one small gift for each of our sisters and brother. Even on our special day together, Grandma couldn't bear to leave the others out completely.

Thanks to a herculean effort by my mother, we were all involved in many, many school activities. There were lots and lots of band concerts, choir concerts, play productions, and dance recitals spanning over several years. Grandma missed very few of them. In fact, she was the one that showed up hours early, saving the best seats with her coat, her scarf, a purse, and my grandfather.

We loved her intensely. She was the recipient of the first Christmas present I ever purchased. It was a rhinestone Partridge in a Pear Tree. I think I got it at Woolworth's. I thought it was beautiful, like her. She wore it every year. Above one of her kitchen cabinets, she kept this pitiful paper mache "thing" (I think it was supposed to be a giraffe) that I made for her in first grade. When I reached high school I begged her to take that silly thing down. She told me it was a great work of art and she liked it just where it was, thank you very much. The same went for the construction paper/cotton ball santa on the wall and the decoupage wooden spoon hanging on the cabinet door.

When I was away at school, she became the Care Package Queen. Just about every week or so a large box would arrive from Bedford, OH filled with homemade cookies and trinkets along with cut-out comic strips from the paper. She'd write underneath the strip, "Thought this would make you laugh." Opening those boxes was like receiving a giant, Sweetheart- soap- scented bear hug. Priceless.

Shortly after I moved to NYC, I read about an upcoming audition for a role I was perfect for: Brunette, brown eyes, medium height, age range 20-25. "That's ME!!" I thought, "They are going to be SO happy when I walk through that door!" The day of the audition I entered the lobby to a veritable SEA of brown-eyed, twenty-something brunettes. They handed me my audition number. I promise you I am not making this up, it was #825. I found a quiet corner, shut my eyes and reminded myself that just a few hundred miles away stood a small bungalow where my first grade art projects hung on the wall. I thought about the lady who placed them there and how completely I was loved by her. Special, indeed. I didn't get the part, but when I got home there was a card waiting for me. When I opened it, a Family Circus comic fell out. I must admit, it made me laugh.

Catherine Alberta Simmons died from colon cancer on a Thursday, March 16, 1989. She didn't really fight that hard, she said it was time to go and was ready to return "home." She donated her body to science because she didn't want her family to spend one cent on funeral expenses. I asked her pastor if I could say a few words at her memorial service. It was going to be an intensely hard thing to do, but I felt I owed it to this woman who had given everything to ensure my happiness. I needed to speak that day because, as I explained to the congregation, everybody knew her as something different. To one, she was a wife, to another she was "Mom." She was to some a fellow church member, a co-worker, or a friend. I told them all they had been enormously cheated. Because Kathy, Laura, Jennifer, Jack and I were the only ones who knew her as "Grandma." And this, I know from the bottom of my heart, is what she did the very, very best.

It's been years since her death, but I can assure you I still think of my precious Grandma every single day. And every birthday, I put on a yellow outfit and think about how I'd give everything I own to take just one more bus ride with her to Woolworth's.

To Kathy, Laura, Jen, and Jack: I know, it's not good enough. I'll work to make it better. I promise you.

To everyone else: I hope this has made you think of the Grandma Simmons in your life. If that person is still around, put down this post immediately and go hug their neck. They deserve it!!

Thanks for reading!


Diminishing Lucy said...

I want to cry. She sounds like an amazing woman and a perfect grandmother. How lucky you both were to share what you had together. xx

laura may said...

Thankyou so much for sharing such beautiful things about your grandma. I was extremely close with my nana before she passed away in 2006. And like you, I think about her every day. I think about her hands, the way she sewed, how she would whistle through her teeth & when she saw you, she treated you like you were the only person in the world. Thanks again for the lovely post. It's nice to know girls & their grandmas still have sacred relationships.

love lm.x

Don Wood said...

I hope we have made the same impression on our grand children. Our eldest already thinks grandma's loft has everything in it and he starts all conversations with a very loud pronounced GRANDMA which is lovely. I am sitting here with a tear in my eye for those who have gone before, and the inevitability that we to will follow. It is those actions of others that make us who we become. May our actions all be good.XXX Don

Sinful Southern Sweets said...

I don't believe I have ever read a blog post that brought tears to my eyes. But this one certainly did. Those special "angels" that come into our lives and make such wonderful memories are such a gift. Your very well written memories brought back such wonderful memories of my own childhood and those special women that made me feel important.
Thanks for helping to start my morning filled with sweet memories!

Anonymous said...

Love, you made me cry. I hope you didn't pour out and fill a bucket as you wrote this. Come here, i want to give you a hug so bad! You Grandma looks gorgeous and she sounds like a fairy-tale character. I'm so very happy you spent as much time as you did with her. Indeed the rest were cheated, coz this yellow-girl got to have the best memories. What say, Kathy, Laura, Jen, Jack?

Born with a big mouth! said...

Writing about them actually helps to keep them alive. i am certain she is smiling at this post and how moved you were to write it!!

Hearts Turned said...

Oh, my...that was a gift. Thank-you so very much for going ahead and writing that today. It's always a good thing to listen to that "nudge" in your heart--it's there for a reason!

I love writing about my family--I incorporate them in my posts whenever I can. Family history is very important to me, and I love them all so much...I just wish I had your gift for writing!

Your Grandma reminds me of my Mother. She is still with us, and I will (thank Heavens!) be seeing her in just under 2 weeks. I will throw my arms around her neck and think of all the beautiful things you wrote today. My children adore her. She is short and beautiful...makes everyone feel special and loves us all so much, and we know it without question!

Sorry--didn't mean to "post" her in your comment section! See what you inspired today? Thanks, again! You're quickly becoming my favorite place to visit each day...have a beautiful one!

Helen said...

This made me cry! She sounds like an incredible lady xx

Jean said...

Thank you for the morning tears :) This is a beautiful post! I know you feel as though it may not be "good enough" but to me it is perfection. It made me think about the person in my life who made me feel that special as well as it made me know just how important you were to her. I can only hope that in the years to come I will have that much of a profound affect on someone too!


Bossy Betty said...

A great tribute to your grandmother! She reminded me of my Grandma Bessie--a true saving grace in my life. I love all the details you put in here. You should never wait to write when the universe insists you should! This was lovely!

christy rose said...

Neither of my grandmas are still here on this earth either. I have great memories with them both! This was beautiful writing! It stirred me to remember so many things myself. Thanks!

JennyMac said...

This post made me smile and want to cry. What a beautiful tribute to your awesome (and TINY!) Grandma Simmons. I love how much she loved you and how special you were to her, yellow cups and all. My Grandparents all passed when I was fairly young but JohnnyMac and his little brother used to sneak out of their house to go over to his grandmas and watch late night tv when they were kids. I am so blessed that our son has six living grandparents and 2 great-grandparents and hope he has a story like yours to share one day. I LOVED this post. It made my day.

Shana Putnam said...

You absolutely made me cry. I have no grandparents left and I miss them so much. Thanks for the precious look into your life.

Heather said...

What an amazing grandma! Beautiful story.


Kellyansapansa said...

She sounds like an amazing lady and I'm sure your post would have made her so proud of you. It doesn't need polishing - it's perfect as it is. xx

SM said...

sniff you made me tear up and that is not an easy job! I love this and grandparents matter!

Heatherlyn said...

Your post is a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. She sounds wonderful. Amazing. My own grandmother was much like her. I still remember the special birthday lunches. There is no inheritance greater than the love and support that someone gives throughout the course of a lifetime. You are so blessed!!!!!!!

allison said...

What an incredible woman and a true inspiration. I am so shocked by her painting of the tables and personalizing everything. Some people are so thoughtful, and it really makes me want to give that to my children one day.

Loving Wife, Working Mom said...

My grandma smelled of Pond's Cold cream and used to sing and dance all day. Your grandma reminds me of mine. They are VERY similar. I loved my grandma and still miss her.

Velvet Over Steel said...

Absolutely beautiful tribute to an obviously awesome woman and 'grandmather'!! I am crying and hoping that I will be a fraction as a good a grandmother as her someday! Mine are gone, have been for a very long time, but I certainly remember them and wish I could let them know how special they were to me!
Thank you so much for sharing your story! I lot of people will get well deserved hugs and loving after reading this I'm sure!

Miss Go Lightly said...

So one moment I'm smiling and imagining myself in Ireland, and the next I am filled with memories of my grandmother and feel sad that I can't go and hug her and tell her that she meant so much to me, but at the same time reading your story made me remember all the wonderful times I shared with her, and how much she loved me and watched over me. You were so blessed to have such a wonderful and loving grandmother, and I am sure she is smiling down at you for sharing this lovely story with us.
Warm Hugs,

Looking for Blue Sky said...

The loveliest and most heartwarming blog post I've read in a long time. You are truly blessed to have had such a wonderful grandma :)

Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

This is one of the most lovely blog posts I have ever read. Your grandmother must have been a wonderful woman =)

Also, look at that, I'm a cool person now =P

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