Saturday, February 23, 2013

Grandma Barbara

Today is my Grandma Barbara's birthday.  She passed away in 1995, but during the first eleven years of my life, I was incredibly close to her, and I still think of her often.

I was recently talking to a good friend and told a story about my Grandma Barbara.  She said, "I didn't know you were close to your mom's mom.  I only hear you talk about your dad's parents."  It made me sad to realize that even my closest friends might not know about this spunky woman and how much she impacted my life.

So today's blog post is going to be long, and it might not be interesting to anyone but me and my sisters, but I want my children to know how important their Great Grandma Barbara was in my life.

I have so many memories of weekends spent in Colorado Springs with Grandma Barbara and Papa Scotty.  My mom would meet Grandma at the post office in Larkspur (halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs) and send us off for a weekend in paradise.

Grandma and Papa Scotty's house really was paradise for children.  They had the world's cutest dog (little Freddy who would jump five feet in the air in excitement when he saw us), a freezer stocked with Klondike bars, and an enormous backyard.  Her backyard was the size of a meadow, with a grassy hill, a tree swing, a hot tub, a long cement porch where we could rollarskate (even in the winter!), a babbling stream for wading, a horse pasture just across the street, and a real Native American totem pole (how random is that?).  We spent hours playing outside and pretending to be cowboys and Indians, among other creative games.

I have a vivid memory of wading in the stream behind Grandma's house on my birthday when I was probably about eight years old.  Grandma always bought us cute preppy outfits from a shop called Chocolate Soup for our birthdays, and she didn't want me wading in my new ensemble, but I assured her that I would be careful.  Of course, I stepped into a hole and ended up flat on my face in the water.  The minute I started to fall, I knew I was in trouble.  Grandma Barbara was a feisty lady who could really give you a piece of her mind when she was upset.  I remember looking at the bank where she was standing and seeing the horror on her face.  She had a few choice words for me when I emerged covered in mud.

I have always been an overly sensitive girl who cries when I am scolded or criticized, but for some reason, it never bothered me when Grandma scolded me.  That was just Grandma's way.  She was a passionate person with big opinions and a big personality.  I knew she loved me fiercely and would go to the ends of the earth for me if she had to.  She had a way of being firm but so loving.

During our visits in Colorado Springs, she would take us to feed the ducks at the Broadmoor Hotel, and we would play on the playground there, which had a jungle gym shaped like a train.  For some reason, the train had a big S on the front of it, and my sisters and I decided that it stood for "smoking." We would climb on top of the train and pretend to be spies, peeking down into the train  through a trap door to spy on the "bad" bandits who were smoking inside.

At night, we would sit on her bed and watch "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" or "The Neverending Story."  I remember that she and Papa Scotty had a fancy mattress that could go up and down with a remote control, and we thought it was simply the coolest.

I remember that Grandma had these triangle-shaped makeup sponges in a jar in the bathroom that I loved to hold and stroke because they were so soft.  (So funny what stays with us from childhood, isn't it?)  They smelled like her, and I knew that she used them to fix her beautiful nails which were long and strong and 100% real. 

When I was in fifth grade, Grandma was diagnosed with colon cancer and left her beautiful home in Colorado Springs to come stay with us. Papa Scotty was in poor health and was losing his memory, so he couldn't care for her.  Scotty was my step-grandpa, and he had family there in the Springs who would take care of him while we cared for Grandma.  She had come to live with us for a month when our mom had cancer a few years earlier, so now it was our turn to take care of her.

It was thrilling to have her living in our home. We made a banner to welcome her, and even brought out our guinea pig, Muffin, to greet her on the porch. ;)

She was always up to make me breakfast before school--usually a poached egg, her specialty!--and she was always there to hear about my day when I got home.  Though she wasn't a member of our church, she often joined our family for scripture study in the evenings, and I loved to hear her distinctive voice reading verses from the Bible with us.

I felt so close to her, my sisters, and my parents during those months that Grandma lived with us.   I'm sure that was a stressful time for my mother, but I was largely unaware of Grandma's failing health and was just so happy to have her with us all the time.

On St. Patricks Day, I came downstairs for breakfast, and Grandma wasn't up yet.  This was really unusual, so I went to the basement door and called her name.  When I peeked down, she was slowly climbing the stairs, step by step, clinging to the railing.  She was smiling, but I could tell she didn't feel well. 

When I came home from school that day, she was sitting in the recliner in the family room, and she couldn't talk or move.  My mom had been on the phone all day with the Hospice nurses.  I remember sitting on my mom's lap and staring at my lifeless grandma, so different from the woman I had always known who was full of spunk, opinions, and energy.  I curled up into Mom's chest and cried, knowing I was going to lose my grandma very soon.

Before we went to bed that night, my sisters and I went into the family room one by one with our parents to say a special goodnight to Grandma.  I held her hand and told her that I loved her.  I thanked her for everything she had given me and taught me.  Though she couldn't respond or smile, I could tell she heard me by the flickering of her eyelids and by the peaceful feeling that came into my heart. 

The next morning, I came downstairs early.  No one was awake yet.  Grandma had been staying in the basement for the months that she lived with us, but the day before, they had put a hospital bed in the office on the main floor, so she wouldn't have to climb up and down the stairs anymore.  The door to the office was closed, and I did not open it.  I didn't want to know if Grandma was in there or not, though, in my heart, I already knew that she was gone.

I went into the family room and sat in the recliner where I had last seen her sitting.  I felt a deep ache, a mixture of loneliness and sadness that I now recognize as grief. Mom and Dad came downstairs a few minutes later and explained that Grandma had died peacefully in bed during the night and that her body had been taken to the funeral home to be cremated, as she had wanted.

I knew that Grandma would have kissed me goodbye on her way to heaven.  I imagined her spirit stopping in my room, which was right above the office, before she made her way to the peace and joy that awaited her in the next life.  This thought was so comforting to a little girl who was experiencing death for the first time.

I remember my aunts, uncles, and cousins coming to town for the funeral.  Though there were lots of tears, there was also lots of laughter as we shared memories from Grandma's life, her funny sayings, and her feisty personality.  All of the grandchildren were allowed to choose a memento from Grandma's house, something to remember her by.  I chose a little ornate clock and pillbox that I had always admired on the bureau in her bedroom.  It was on my shelf of "special things" in my bedroom throughout my teen years, and I still have it in my box of treasures from childhood.

In the years since my grandma's death, I have realized more and more what a remarkable person she was.  She was an incredibly hardworking woman who, in many ways, was "ahead of her time"--she received a college education and ran the family business, all while raising four great kids.  She has become one of my role models of a strong, capable, smart woman and mother.

But, as a young girl, I didn't know about all of her achievements and talents--I just knew that she loved me.  And that was all that mattered.

I am so grateful that my grandparents on both sides made me feel so cherished and important when I was growing up.  Their influence on who I have become is profound, and I will always honor and love them.


  1. I loved reading this!!! I barely remember her, but reading this brought a lot of little things back to me. I loved those makeup sponges too. She would usually let me take a couple home. :)

  2. Thank you for writing this, Rachel! Like Laura, I also don't remember a whole lot about Grandma Barbara, but this post brought back a lot (like the totem pole, remote control mattress, and Freddy!). Lots of love to you.

  3. I absolutely LOVED reading this! I have very vivid, fond memories of Grandma and of that house. I think she is one of my kindred spirits. I definitely take after her feist and spunk. xo

    (You forgot that we always watched Lawrence Welk and danced around the room while she and Scotty watched and grinned at us.)


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