When Grandma was born, there were only 45 states. Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma were just territories. Not until she was 54 years old did it become the 50 states that we now know.
When she was born, Roosevelt was President. Franklin? No, Theodore. There had never been any such thing as a "World War".
When Grandma was born, television wasn't even an idea, let alone a reality. Radio as an entertainment was unheard of. The telephone was a relatively new device and only 8% of US homes had one.
There were no such things as commercial airplanes in the air overhead. The Wright Brothers had flown at Kitty Hawk only two years previously. So, you drove everywhere, right? Yeah, if you had a horse. There were approximately 8,000 cars in the US, and only 144 miles of paved roads.
CDs, cassette tapes, records? Forget it. You wanted to hear music, you pretty much had to go find a band playing somewhere. There were some cylinder recordings, and a few of the newer flat records, but the Gramophone (or Victrola) wouldn't be introduced until 1906, so most folks didn't have the ability to play them. It was some 30 years before the invention of the electric guitar.
Coca-Cola still contained Cocaine. Heroin, Morphine and Marijuana were available at any of your larger drugstores, over the counter. On the other hand, many thousands of people died from the flu each year, as well as tuberculosis. Penicillin was just bread mold.
Women didn't have the right to vote until Grandma was 17.
When My Grandma was born, the average life expectancy in the United States was forty-seven. She sure beat hell out of that statistic.
Some folks might wonder just what My Grandma thought of all the changes that happened since she was born. I guarantee you she didn't spend much time thinking about it. That was one of the secrets to her longevity, I think. Grandma was one of those folks who let little or nothing bother her. She was, without a doubt, the least aggravated person I have ever known.
I once mentioned this to my mother. I said, "You know, Mom, I don't ever remember Grandma being mad. Is it just me? Have you ever seen her really angry?" My Mom said that she really could not remember a time when My Grandma was steaming mad. In all the time I knew her, which was 54 years, I only saw her smile or, at worst, have a look of indifference. I never saw her cry, although I'm sure she did. And I've probably said more swears during the course of my writing this piece than she uttered in her entire life. I never heard her curse, even once. My Mom doesn't curse, per se, but she uses substitute words, such as "fudge" or "shoot". My Grandma didn't even use those.
Understand this, though - she certainly had reason to use some pretty strong words. Some folks who had her life might have invented completely new swear words.
She lost her left eye just before her first birthday. A clock fell from a mantle and the corner of it punctured her eyeball. She had a plastic eye ever since then. That didn't stop her from being one of the most marvelous artists I knew. She had no depth perception, yet she painted and crocheted and did mosaic work - beautifully. There was absolutely no indication in any of her work that she had vision in only one eye.
She used to do things with acrylics and with polished stones. She had this sort of motorized canister than tumbled stones until they became really smooth and beautiful, and she used to use these stones to create marvelous works of art, combining painting with the stones (and with other bits and pieces) to create seascapes. And with the acrylics, she'd make these lovely lamps, full of color and really eye-catching. And then there was her sewing and knitting. She made pillows and comforters and other usefully pretty objects. These things were, of course, on top of her painting and needlework and crocheting and singing and cooking and houseplants and volunteer work and...
She had a number of operations, any one of which might have made other folks bitter for years afterward. Not my Grandma. She had a mastectomy a few years back. She had false teeth. Her gall bladder long ago went the way of the dodo. She had a couple of procedures involving her intestines. Add a hysterectomy, sometime in the 1940's. And the plastic eye, of course. On top of that, she was profoundly deaf. But none of it stopped her. Or stopped her from smiling.
She loved to sing.
There was this bar in Quincy called Mr. C's that she and my mother went to, along with my stepfather, Bill. There were quite a few folks of their age, or perhaps a bit younger, who came out once a week to gather around the piano and sing some standards. My Grandma was a regular. At other times during the week, they would take this show on the road to various nursing homes and retirement facilities, along with good friends and great musicians Rose Ryder and Bill Bemus. Yes, in her nineties, Grandma was traveling around entertaining nursing home patients.
Except for her age, this was not an unusual activity for her. She had been volunteering at such residences for more than thirty years - since her mid-sixties, when My Grandpa died. She was, as a matter of fact, the Volunteer Of The Year for the state of Massachusetts in 1978. Of course, she didn't get an award like that for just singing and dancing. She taught arts and crafts to the patients, as well as helping with transportation and other things. She did this, for many years, all day, every day. The award she received did not make her rest on her laurels. In 1995, she was nominated as "Elderpreneur Of The Year" for her various volunteer activities. She was 90 at the time.
Volunteering and doing community work was hardly something new for her. Many years before, she had been instrumental in starting the first Girl Scout troop in her hometown of Weymouth. She worked in entertaining many servicemen, in hospitals and service clubs, following World War One. This was with her older brother, Louis, who did magic and ventriloquism, and her younger sister, Gerry, who also sang and danced. In addition, she and my grandfather also entertained service folk at their home throughout the years. There are quite a few veterans who would gladly tell you how much Grandma, and her family's hospitality, meant to them during a tough time in their lives.
One of the more interesting stories about Grandma was how she finagled dancing lessons for herself when she was a young woman. She couldn't afford to just take them and pay for them, so what did she do? She started her own dancing school. She signed up students, and then she signed up for dancing lessons from a renowned Russian ballet teacher of the time named Russikoff. She would take a lesson from Russikoff. Then, before her next lesson, she would give lessons to her students. Then she would take another lesson, afterwards giving that lesson to her students, and so on. How brave and inventive was that?
My own memories of Grandma are pretty pedestrian stuff, I suppose. I remember nice meals when I visited. For some reason, I remember almost always having lamb at their house. I remember her driving to meet Grandpa at the train station after his workday (he was the senior claims attorney for the MBTA), me in the back seat, and then going to her place.
Sometimes when I visited, she'd take me to a bakery near her house and buy a half-dozen cupcakes. I remember the marvelous aromas of baked bread and the desserts at that bakery, and the way Grandma would let me pick out my own cupcake (I always took one with chocolate frosting.) I remember the interesting mix of smells that Beechnut peppermint gum and Winston cigarettes would make. She chewed one and smoked the other - you can probably guess which.
She always saved the Sunday funnies for me, from her local newspaper that we didn't get in Dorchester. It was a special treat when I went there to visit and got to read those full-color pages on a weekday.
She was one of the most moral people I know. She didn't thump a bible in your face or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I don't know the last time she was in a church other than for a wedding or a funeral, although I suspect she said her prayers at night. She just lived right. She knew what was fair and what was unfair. She never, and I mean never, showed even the slightest prejudice because of skin color or religion or political leanings. When it came to people, she was absolutely blind to anything other than their humanity. Just as I never heard her swear, I also never heard her use any sort of pejorative in her description of someone.
I suppose it goes without saying that I loved My Grandma. Beyond that, though, in so many ways, My Grandma was my hero. She did more, with what she was given, than anyone else I know. I treasure the time I spent with her. I couldn't have asked for a Grandmother, made to my specifications, more perfect than the one that I had.