18 June 2009

Grandmothers' wisdom

I grew up in the same home town my family had lived in for generations. So it was that both sets of grandparents lived there, within walking distance from our house. For years I had a ritual of going to each of their houses once a week for dinner: a hamburger and mashed potatoes.

Perhaps another time I'll write something about my grandfathers; now I want to say something about my grandmothers.

Every kid should have one grandparent who thinks the world revolves around them. For me, that was Grandma Schultz. She and Grandpap Schultz had two children, both of them girls. She told me, again and again, "You're my favorite boy." ("But Grandma," I'd object, "I'm your only boy." "Never mind," she answered. "You're still my favorite boy.") Each year she would take me to downtown Pittsburgh on my birthday. We ate at Stouffer's, a very fancy restaurant. Then she would take me to Gimbels or Kaufmans or Hornes and let me get any one thing I wanted. Sometimes it would be a toy. Sometimes it would be a Hardy Boys book. She never fussed about the cost. She let me feel completely free to choose.

Grandma loved to bowl, and she took me and my sisters bowling from time to time. She wasn't the best cook: her hamburgers might be a bit burned, sometimes I ate TV dinners, and she would serve instant mashed potatoes ("Ersazt Kartoffeln!" my grandfather would protest). But I always knew she loved me. She didn't have to say it. I could tell.

Grandma Schultz taught me how to deal with people. When I was little, each day after lunch my mother and I had a ritual. She would want me to take a nap. And I wouldn't want to. So she would try to reason with me, or compel me. Sometimes she won, and sometimes I did. But on those days I was at Grandma's house for lunch, after lunch she'd say, "Would you like to go to a party?" "Sure!" I'd answer. So she said, "Let's go upstairs." I went up the steps with her and she led me to the spare bedroom. "You can go to Lily White's party," she'd say. "How?" I replied. "Just lie down on this bed--it's magic--close your eyes and breath very slowly, and you'll be right there." It worked like a charm, every time--even though she'd done it many times before.

Grandma Hogg loved me, too. She cooked better hamburgers than Grandma Schultz, and she always made real mashed potatoes--you could tell by the lumps. She was rather strong-willed, which was a necessity in dealing with my Grandpap Hogg. When she was a little girl, she used to walk outside her house and stand in the streetcar tracks as a streetcar was coming. She would hold up her hand and stop the streetcar till the driver had to come out and move her on to the sidewalk.

Her life hadn't been easy. But she kept on keeping on, she endured.

Both grandmothers had words of wisdom I remember to this day.

Grandma Schultz used to say, when something bad happened, "It will get better before you get married." She was right; her words worked like magic--right up to the day, 31 years ago yesterday, that I got married.

Grandma Hogg's advice for bad times kicked in at that point, and remains true today. "You'll live to suffer more." So last year, when a lady hit-and-ran my car, I thought of Grandma Hogg's words. When I wonder what will happen about this or that issue that faces me, I remember.

Grandma Schultz died about a year after I was married--June of 1979. I went to see her in the hospital with my new bride, and she said, "You were made for each other." She was right.

Grandma Hogg endured till 1994. She was 90 1/2 years old when she died. I saw her in the hospital, and to this day I remember her brown eyes looking intensely at me from her bed. I remember thinking, "This is the last time I'll see her in this life." And it was.

Thank God I have a wonderful wife, and kids--I've never needed Grandma Hogg's words for her, or for them. But those are other stories, for other times. I share both grandmothers' words of wisdom with them from time to time. And now I've shared them with you!


margi said...

Ersazt Kartoffeln! I have the coffee-in-nose problem now. My Baba was a great cook but to her instant mash, tinned salmon and packeted soup were somehow wonderful, to listen you'd think even if there had been no revolution she'd have left Russia just to get her hands on a can of Campbell's (we call 'Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell' "Granma's movie" in our family to this day).

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...


I am honored to have caused a coffee-in-nose problem. When we were children, sitting around the dinner table, my sisters and I used to try to see who could make just the right remark to cause my mother to leave the table, run to the kitchen and cough/choke. Those were the days...