Wednesday, February 07, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

16. I want you to know this about my grandmothers.

My grandmothers were as different as night and day. My grandmother Lillian Gladys Upton Herndon, my mother's mother, was sweet, gentle, warm, loving, and dependent. She told me that when she was 21 (in 1921) her father took her to the bank and explained to the banker that she was getting married, and so her money was now going to be taken care of by her husband. And when my grandfather died, her daughter, my Aunt Flo had already moved back in to take care of them and took over the care of Grandma's money. Aunt Flo had her write one check, so that she would have the experience of it, but Grandma never tended to that part of her life. I don't know that she ever even had any cash in her purse. My grandfather used to do all of the shopping, even for her clothes.

She had a good marriage, not without its problems, but between two people who took marriage seriously. Grandpa was very earthy and playful and one of the things I most remember her saying was, "Now, Percy. Do behave." She was a good but nervous cook, unable to have anyone else in the kitchen while she cooked, so that none of her daughters learned to cook from her. She had been so shy in school that her parents, since her mother had been a teacher, allowed her to drop out of school and be educated at home. She canned and made her own olives and grew wonderful flowers.

When I lived in Modesto with Aunt Julia, Grandma knew I loved sweet peas, and she brought them to me every week that they were in bloom. Mostly I remember her laughter and her love, hugs and cookies and always knowing that she thought I was wonderful.

If she had a fault, it was that there was no governor on her tongue. If she thought it, she said it. Luckily she seldom thought hurtful things, and never mean ones. But, blunt truth isn't diplomatic.

My grandmother Bertha Cook Hunt, on the other hand, was very capable of caring for herself and her children. She left home when her father arranged a marriage with a man she later described as "old, ugly, and rich" and worked her way from Illinois to California. There she met and married my grandfather. He was an engineer on the Union Pacific Railroad at one point, and later they opened a barbeque that was famous 90 miles away, in San Francisco. After my grandfather died, while both of her sons were still in high school, she discovered that a woman without the protection of a man was considered fair game. She closed the restaurant because she was afraid that some man would harass her when her sons were there and the boys would try to protect her and, because they were so young, they could be badly hurt. So, she turned her land into a trailer court and worked in the cannery. She was proud of her looks, delighted that she had a smaller waist than either of her slender daughters-in-law.

She was an excellent cook, and when my parents married and it turned out my mother couldn't even boil an egg, my father took her home to his mother to learn. I don't think that was the happiest time of my mother's life -- Grandma Hunt was very jealous of her sons and always had to point out the faults of their wives to them. And I'm not sure she gave Mama the best information on cooking, either. She would give recipes that people asked for with an ingredient missing or something ghastly added or the salt or chili quadrupled. Her things were her things, whether sons or recipes or her favorite paring knife. And, as I've mentioned before, after Daddy adopted Forrest and me, she never reached out to us again and we soon stopped reaching to her. When I went to live with Aunt Julia, she asked if I would like to visit Grandma Hunt, since I was now living in the same town, and we did. My Aunt Orlena told Mama that Grandma had told her that she had no idea what it was we wanted. And I never saw her after that.

1 comment:

kenju said...

How sad that she thought to end the relationship just because of the family situation. It was her loss, I am sure.

My mom's family name was Cook.