I met her when I was 20, the year before I married her son, Cal. I was in the Army and on my way to Germany from Ft. Hood, Texas. Marriage wasn’t yet in our plans, but it was time to meet the family in Cloquet, Minnesota. She was still married to my boyfriend’s father, and our visit necessitated a large family gathering to the home. This included aunts and uncles and some cousins, the siblings and a couple of nieces, and friends from high school that she managed to find. She loved a family gathering and had lots of food ready for everyone. We married a year later. Her name was Luella, but I called her Mom. My mother had always called her mother-in-law “Mother”, and I saw no reason not to do the same.
Later, after she divorced, life was in a tiny apartment. She supported herself by cleaning at a motel and for people’s homes, and regaled us with stories of things she found in the rooms she cleaned. Once, while staying with her during this time, she made the biggest buttermilk pancakes I had ever seen in my life to that point, the size of a dinner plate.
The happiest years for her were after her remarriage. She married a man named Paul, and began being known as “Grandma B” because no one could pronounce Grandpa Paul’s Macedonian last name. Together they had a wonderful life in a tiny house in the Minnesota countryside. They planted a garden and canned their produce to last for the whole winter. They visited and lunched with their many friends, and had family over often. Over the years, their walls became filled with her cross stitched pictures which were always framed by Paul with wood he had laying around in his barn. Paul would cut out wood crafts and she would paint them. She also embroidered, quilted, and crocheted. She would go to rummage sales and boast about what good deals she received – stacks of vintage material for a dollar that would go into her quilts, embroidery, craft, and household items, books, and whatever she thought someone else might need.
Mom B was a cross stitcher and so am I. I would bring my latest project to show her – usually the same project because I was so slow – and she would show me all of the things she was working on, something I looked forward to. We also shared a love of reading – especially non-fiction on her part – and we’d discuss the latest book she’d read, and she always had several to give me.
She was a giver. She shared their canned and baked goods, garden produce, crafts, and rummage sale finds not only with us but with family, friends, and anyone who had done her a good deed. And she was a giver of love. There was so much love to go around in that little house. Our girls loved going to “Grandma B’s and Grandpa Paul’s” house. They’d bury themselves in her craft room. One cold winter day, Mom and Paul built a big bonfire out in the snow, and we roasted marshmallows. Grandma B had Tupperware containers of homemade goodies to eat, and “pop” to drink from the refrigerator. There were hours of Rummikub played at their table with both of them, and they were tough to beat.
After Paul died, she moved into a retirement home near where she had been raised, in Duluth Heights, and made many new friends. She volunteered for the activities department. She slowed, and finally stopped, her crafting. Last summer she was no longer reading her books. With her usual efficiency, she gave away a lot of what she had left over the ten years she lived there. If I told her I liked something, she’d then want to give it to me. When her daughter came to clean out her apartment, the cupboards were bare. She had even either given away many of the dishes, or put them in a rummage sale. She took care of the things in her life so that no one else would have much to do.
My own mother was 44 years old when I was born. She spent the last several years of her life with dementia before she passed. Mom B was only 22 when Cal was born, so I enjoyed many more years with her after my own mother passed. Although I had given her the title upon my marriage, she truly became my Mom with the love that she gave to me, and so I have been blessed with two wonderful mothers.
Life never brought us to the Duluth area to live, so she is not someone I ever knew on a day to day basis. Once our daughters were born, we focused on getting them up to Minnesota at least every eighteen months or so. There would be a summer visit, and then a winter visit. During most of their childhood years, the trip to visit her was a twelve hour drive for us. They were never far from her thoughts. She made stuffed animals with elaborate clothing for them, and cross stitch pictures for their rooms. Letters and packages were always going back and forth. After each visit she would load them up with more “stuff”- handmade items and rummage sale finds for them, baked and canned goods for all of us, including her famous cinnamon rolls. There would even be a frozen pie in a rummage sale pie pan which we could keep, and which we hurriedly had to get in the oven once we got home.
Life is seldom perfect, and it was not for Mom. She had a hardscrabble upbringing and bore six children at a young age. She was a young Army wife who often lived far from the home and family that she loved. She struggled with mental illness, the worst times being prior to her marriage to Paul, and did not always receive the help or consideration that she should’ve had. The divorce from her first husband was rancorous. All of that left marks not only on her but on the people she loved.
Yet she didn’t wear these scars on her sleeve. Instead, she focused on giving her love in many forms, especially to her grandchildren. She loved every one of her fifteen grandchildren and nineteen great grandchildren, but the ones that she was able to see and communicate with regularly were most special to her. They loved her in return. In her example, I have learned what kind of grandmother I want to be.
Mom B passed on St. Patrick’s Day of this year, and her funeral was this weekend. It was a celebration of her life, and four of her grandchildren stood up to say what she had meant to them. The visit to Duluth was an occasion for Cal and I to have all of our own family together. We visited favorite places and shared memories with other family members. We went with our family, including our grandchildren, to Canal Park. That is a place we have enjoyed visiting with every trip over the years, and it feels that the torch has been passed. The grandparents are all gone, and now we are the elder generation. It was bittersweet, because I don’t know when or if we will ever have this time all together in that place again.
Thanks for the memories, Mom. Rest in peace knowing you were appreciated and so, so loved.
Next time – Back to Maui!