Surviving an Unconventional Grandma


For some people, the word Grandma conjures warm, fuzzy memories. Baking cookies together in the kitchen. Snuggling on the sofa together as she read books to you. Grandma pushing you on a playground swing.

If the memories of your grandmother are those, count your blessings. Mine are a bit different. And yet those memories helped me see that people who don’t fit into the mold can be used by God to instill skills in us which can be useful later in life.

It was my paternal grandmother who was a square peg in a round hole. When we loaded into the station wagon to visit her, we might have gotten more excitement over a trip to the dentist. We knew we would be expected to sit on her living room floor with a can of buttons and a large sewing needle, stringing buttons on a long thread…and keeping silent. No bursts of, “Grandma, guess what I did at school!” In those days children were seen, not heard. It wasn’t really so bad; it gave us practice in sewing and creativity. It taught me to sit still and be quiet, a skill I've used many times since.

Grandma was a no-nonsense kind of person. One of my vivid memories occurred when she slapped my brother across the face with a raw fish. She really did that! Back story: my brother made the dumb mistake of talking back to her while she was cleaning a fish. He had yet to learn the childhood survival skill of keeping your mouth shut when in the presence of a formidable adult who is holding a potential weapon.

Grandma was –let’s say thrifty. At Christmas she gave each of us an envelope with a five-dollar bill inside. We had to dutifully report to her later, how we spent the money. Since we were dirt poor, I usually bought Sunday shoes with mine. There were no wild extravaganzas of bubble gum and candy at her expense!

Grandma’s mind and health deteriorated near the end of her life. When I was twelve years old it became my lot to spend time alone at her house for a short season, being her maid. My job was to attend her in the bathroom (which may account for my aversion to certain nursing duties) and to work in the kitchen. Grandma insisted that I save and use the dishwater over and over. After several times it began to look like vegetable soup. I was happily rescued by my dad, who came over to check on things. He gave me permission—behind Grandma’s back--to throw it away.

One of the most traumatic parts about leaving Grandma was saying goodbye. She was of the old school, believing relatives ought to be kissed on the lips. The problem was, she gave wet, slobbery kisses. I got the willies just thinking about it. My brother—the mouthy one---devised a plan to avoid kissing Grandma, however, and it worked for a while. As he nearly sprinted to the door, he said, “I’ve got a cold; I’d better not this time.”

My oldest sister has different, pleasant memories of Grandma. Six years can make a huge difference in an elderly person’s development (Grandma’s, not my sister’s). This sibling remembers Grandma playing little games with her and even laughing. As I said, six years can make a huge difference.

While details about Grandma’s early life are sketchy, I heard through the family grapevine that she lost a child as a young adult. Perhaps that accounted for a somewhat testy disposition. Grief can do a lot to damage someone’s emotions. And although I didn’t appreciate going through unpleasant times with Grandma, those occasions prepared me for something which God knew I would need about fifteen years later. He knew that I, as a pastor’s wife, would be responsible for ministering to many hurting people. People who didn’t appreciate overtures of help. People with grating personalities.

So, thanks, Grandma. The God of heaven used your weaknesses to develop skills in me which prepared this young girl for her life’s work. For those difficult, challenging times around Grandma, I am grateful.

What about you? What was your grandma like? You can comment below.