My maternal grandmother has been dead for 20 years now, but I still think about her every day.
Sometimes I remember how she would put bobby pins and pink sponge curlers in my hair as we watched television together on Saturday nights. Or how she knit carpet slippers for my brothers and me every Christmas. Or how she wrapped potatoes in tin foil and baked them in the embers of an autumn bonfire. Or how she once chased me through my mother’s house, squirting me with a squirt gun, which made us both laugh so hard we almost stopped breathing. Or how she told me I would look like Jacqueline Kennedy when I grew up if I ate all my beets. (It didn’t work.) (Obv.)
Other times I remember the stories she used to share about a hardscrabble childhood, growing up on the shores of Bear Lake. Or her stories about driving a school bus and working in my grandfather’s gas station. Or feeding drifters during the Great Depression. Or losing her home to fire right before Christmas.
Some days I just like to remember the feel of her. How soft and full her arms were when she cradled me in bed when I had the earache. Or how her face and neck always smelled like a good Avon moisturizer.
As I’ve grown older, there are questions I’d love to ask her. What made her leave Utah as a young woman and marry outside her faith? How did she manage to retain that faith her entire life? And why? How did she deal with the isolation of Wyoming winters? What was her secret to getting along with her husband’s mother — a hugely charismatic but demanding woman who had occasional trouble with the truth? What were the stories she kept promising to tell me when I grew up but never did?
Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about two of the last things my grandmother ever did on this Earth. The first was to create a perennial garden full of iris, peonies, Shasta daisies and mums. When he spoke at her funeral, my father mentioned this garden — how remarkable it was that my grandmother had enough faith in the future to create something she wouldn’t see.
And the second was her request to my mother the night she died. “Pat,” she said, “I need a tint tomorrow.” Apparently, my grandmother wanted to go into the next life root-free with hair as red as ever.
Here’s the thing. The older my grandmother grew, the more forward-looking she became. She spent very little time in the past toward the end. Instead, she made plans for the days ahead. The future was a place full of possibility and bright hope for the people she loved.
Now a grandmother myself, I understand and respect her desire to make the world a lovelier, better place for others. And I applaud that same impulse in other grandmothers, like Paola Gianturco, who is a Utah Humanities Book Festival presenter this weekend (Saturday, Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Main Library). Gianturco’s gorgeous book, “Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon,” tells the inspiring stories of older women who are working to create a better future — and present — for children everywhere.
Seriously, what better investment of human resources could anyone make?
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.
Paola Gianturco, author of “Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon,” will be a Utah Humanities Book Festival presenter Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City. More information about her work is available at www.globalgrandmotherpower.com.