“My mother, knowing that there were things about my home life that were difficult, made sure I got to spend a lot of time mid-state at my grandparents’ farm.”
Operations Chief for a small, medical-devices firm, in his 60s; grew up in a northern city with his parents, older brother and sister, and on a northern farm with his maternal grandparents and other family members.
© By Niki Glanz, Posted 4/07/18
Like many people, my childhood was mixed. My mother was the upbeat person in the family. She was determined that her children would go to college, and all three of us actually went to [a top, state university] – quite an amazement – thanks, also, to scholarships.
I was maybe seven and home one hot, sweltering day in the city with my sister. My mother said, “You know what? We’ve got to redo the basement and make it into a children’s playroom.”
“What made you think of that, Mother?”
“I don’t know. It just came to me.”
We said, “Sure!”
The basement was in rough shape because we had a coal-fired furnace at one time, then changed to gas. We all rolled up our sleeves and cleaned and cleaned; by the afternoon, it was in fairly good shape. My mother said, “I’ll be back in a while. I’m going to get some paint.” She came back with buckets and buckets of red paint and said, “We’re going to paint everything. We’re going to paint the floor, we’re going to paint the walls, we’re going to paint the ceiling.”
We said, “Everything in red?”
She said, “Yes. Isn’t that a nice color?”
We said, “Sure, Mom!”
We began splashing. This is child heaven: to slap paint anywhere, not worry about whether it covered you or what it covered because everything could be painted. And my mother was part of the fun; she organized it. By the next day, it was pretty dry.
My mother started setting the basement up for a child’s playroom; one of the first things she did was make a swing. We had the old, wooden beams that went across, so she put up a couple of ropes. Now, our mother was attractive She was probably five feet, three inches, slim, and had auburn hair and blueeyes. She was strong, too: being a banquet waitress, she carried twelve dinner plates all over the city. Before she attached the wooden swing, she grabbed a rope and did a “cat-of-nine-tails,” a flip-over in the air, landing on her feet!
I said, “Mom, I didn’t know you could do anything like that!”
She said, “Yes, I’m actually a pretty good athlete, Lawrence.” I’ve done that for my grandchildren, too, but they didn’t get as much of a thrill out of it as I did.
That basement became our children’s paradise. My sister and I had different, little spots where we set up games, like Scrabble and marbles. A lot of my friends would come to play. I also had a little workbench, where I’d make things, and quite a few comic books. Nobody went down there but my sister and me, so there was a certain sense, “This is my place.”
What did I learn from this? The power of positive thinking when times are difficult, and it’s OK to go with the way you are. Regardless of obligations, once in a while you can let go.
My mother, knowing that there were things about my home life that were difficult – namely my father, a taxi-cab driver – made sure I got to spend a lot of time mid-state at my grandparents’ farm. We would go up weekends, or sometimes I’d spend weeks during the summer. The farm had been in the family since 1823. So, we got to read about its history – the Quakers and the Methodists – and my mother would tell us stories.
When I was on the farm, I was in an entirely different world. It was my grandmother and grandfather, my uncle and his wife, and one son – good people. My cousin Sam looked forward to seeing me because he was lonely by himself, and he gave me a playmate just a year younger.
A lot of times we’d have duties, and a lot of times we’d do whatever we were encouraged to do in our hearts. We would go all over the farm: into the hayloft, the fields, and the manure pile. We’d climb trees and ride [horses] Molly and Buster. Even when my cousin and I would fight, it was just, “This is mine!” “No, you’re dead!” and we’d roll down the hill.
One of our responsibilities was the calves. We felt attached to them because we were there, in some cases, when they were born and would feed them, starting with the bottle. As the calves grew, there was a certain point when some would go off to auction. And obviously, some of the heifers. Our job at the auction was to help unload the trucks that had calves.
One day we unloaded a truck where the farmer had put in too many calves. A couple frailer calves at the bottom were dead. We got my uncle; he looked and said, “Yeah, it’s a sad thing, but we just have to know that sometimes not everything that happens in life is good.”
I reflected on this as a perspective of happiness, “Well, there’s a balance in life.”
My grandfather and my uncle both were completely bald on top; they always wore caps. My grandpa was probably five feet, eight inches. He had a lively, ruddy face; I don’t recall ever seeing a frown on it. He was Irish to the core: strong and hard working. My grandma was Scotch: fair skin, blue eyes, and gray hair usually in a bun. She was much sterner – a Temperance lady. There was no alcohol in the house, though there was some out behind the barn.
My cousin and I would ride on the boards on the side of the old truck, when we’d go out to herd the cows. Whatever the grand plan was I didn’t know, but I was glad to be a part of it. The old farmhouse was my grandmother’s. She didn’t exert control; we just knew when meals and bedtime were. She really cared for me: I don’t recall a harsh word. At night, my grandparents would sit in their rockers and watch TV, and I’d sit with them on a little couch. To me, this was my real family. With my grandfather and grandmother, I got a full measure of goodness and normality, a connectedness with my past and future.
Did this have a lasting impact? You bet. Self-confidence, hard work, treating family and children correctly and with love. In retrospect, my guess is that they went out of their way to counter the constant, critical treatment that I got from my father. I try to pass some of my grandparents’ affirmation onto my children and grandchildren.
One time my cousin and I were running around the house. We had been outside, working. We found my grandma on the floor; she had fallen down and broken her hip. She looked at us and said, “My two, little angels. I’m so happy you’re here.” From then on, she walked with a walker. We were the angels. Yes, it certainly gave me a lot of comfort to have that connection.
Memories Matter. We often find the way forward by looking back. Hope you enjoyed the story!
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