Grandma Roberts wasn’t really my grandma, but I didn’t know that for the first few years of my childhood. I knew her so long that I don’t remember a time that she wasn’t in my life.
She lived about a third of a mile up the road from my family and she was a widow. She went to our church and I imagine that is how my parents got to know her. I don’t know how and when she became “Grandma”, but that is what she always was to me and my siblings.
She kept a very clean and organized home. Her table was always set with placemats and a simple centerpiece. She was educated and had done some traveling and her shelves were full of interesting souvenirs that each had a story of their own. When I was old enough I would help her with her dusting and she would tell me the stories as I cleaned each piece. She also had interesting artwork on her walls, some of which she had embroidered or painted. Her home was interesting, warm, and welcoming.
Grandma Roberts was a healthy eater and introduced me to wheat bread with seeds, real butter instead of margarine, plain yogurt with fresh fruit, prickly pear jelly, and unsweetened applesauce. She also taught me how to use a toaster oven. I had never seen one until she did.
When her grandson from California started spending summers with her my two brothers just older than me and I started to spend the bulk of our free time at her house during the day while our parents were at work. We built lemonade stands, made rubber band guns, spent hours drawing and painting at her kitchen table, did yard work, cleaned, played on her piano, and learned how to crochet. She would take us grocery shopping, drop us off at the pool, provide us with endless craft and art supplies, and feed us. But she didn’t spoil us. We worked hard at her house. She labeled me the “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” as it was my job to help her clean up the dishes after a meal. The boys spent hours in the hot Southern Utah sun mowing her lawn and pulling weeds from the hard unforgiving red dirt. She didn’t let us waste food at her house and I didn’t argue with her about it like I did in my own home.
We would often ask her if she had any extra jobs we could do to earn money and she was known for paying whatever she had in her wallet. You could spend two hard hours of labor and get $2 or $20 (which was a lot back then!). It was kind of exciting to take the gamble and I loved to brag to my brothers when I got lucky.
Grandma Roberts would read to me. She had a collection of children’s books, but the only one I remember, because I had her read it to me over and over, was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. She had been a school teacher in her younger years and she had a great reading voice. I would sit right up next to her on her orange velvet sofa and lay my head on her shoulder while she told me the story of Sylvester and how, in a moment of fear, he used his magic pebble to turn himself into a boulder. The story nearly brought me to tears as he watched and listened to his parents as they mourned him when he disappeared, and then delighted in their reunion later in the book. I bought the book for my kids and read it to them when they were little. Although it was fun to share it with my kids, it wasn’t the same as it was when she read to me.
She also taught me to crochet. After weeks of making chains that were longer than her living room, she tried in vain to teach me a double crochet. I tried and tried and tried, but just couldn’t get it right.
After a few frustrating weeks of repeated attempts I was watching her crochet and asked her, “What are you making? It looks like a ladder?”
“It is a ladder stitch! Isn’t it neat?”
It was. I wanted to make ladders.
“Scoot over here,” she said, “I will show you how to do it.”
After just a few minutes of instruction I was building onto my massive chain with the “ladder stitch.” It was a long time later when I was crocheting with my mom and she told me I was doing the double crochet stitch that had evaded me for so long. Soon after I started my first afghan using the skills she had taught me. I was nine years old.
I only remember her getting mad at me once in all those years. My brothers and I had been bickering all afternoon and she finally ordered us to the car and chewed us out all the way home. We were much more careful with our words to each other when we were around her after that.
I had two amazing biological grandmothers and one of them lived right next door to me. I was incredibly lucky. That didn’t mean that my bonus grandma played a backup role in my life. She was just as much a grandma to me and she contributed to my childhood as much as if she had been related by blood.
The last time I saw her I was married and visiting my family. I was shocked at her weakness and inability to take care of herself. She had friends and neighbors, including my mom, checking in on her regularly to help her with her daily needs. She shuffled out to a living room chair and I sat in the one next to it and held her hand as we reminisced and laughed. She had lived a long and productive life and I sensed that she was ready to move on and be with her husband again.
It was months later and I was living in Seattle and nearly full term with my first baby. I knew she had been in a nursing time and my mom had been giving me updates on her condition. When I heard that she had passed away I was not surprised, but I felt a great loss. I was too far along in my pregnancy to travel so I was unable to attend her funeral. It made finding closure difficult.
On my next trip back, with my new baby in tow, my mom gave me a handmade Mary Poppins doll that grandma Roberts had promised to me years before. She had made it without a pattern and it was masterful from the details of the stitching to the little carpet bag that she carried.
I am reminded of the words of a Mormon hymn, Each Life that Touches Ours For Good, that I always enjoyed:
Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects Thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Through words and deeds of those who love.
What greater gift does thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.
When such a friend from us departs,
We hold forever in our hearts
A sweet and hallowed memory,
Bringing us nearer, Lord, to Thee.
While I would expand the words now in my mind to include Christian, Muslim, Atheist, and friends from many beliefs and walks of life, I still love the message in the song.
I hope that one day someone will be able to look back and say that I in some way touched their life for good in the way that Grandma Roberts touched mine.