Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grandma Martin

Grandma Martin and Me

Grandma Martin was my great-grandma: my dad's mom's mom. She was born in 1899, and she gave birth to Grandma Shafer out of wedlock. She never married.

Grandma Martin was very close to her mom and siblings, so I don't know how acutely Grandma Shafer felt the absence of her father; I know her uncles were like dads, her cousins like brothers.

Grandma Martin and Grandma Shafer lived together most of their lives. Grandma and Grandad Shafer lived apart from Grandma Martin for a few years, very early in their marriage. But Grandma Martin moved in with them, for good, after her mom died...nigh about 1943.

Uncle Arnie felt sure that he (at age 5) had pressured his parents into moving Grandma Martin in with the family. At any rate, she helped care for all five children, including my dad, who came along in '48.

I was born on the Mason-Dixon Line in '74 and came home from the hospital to a little, red-brick rancher next door to the white-brick rancher where Grandma Shafer, Grandad Shafer, and Grandma Martin lived. Grandma Martin's bedroom was at the end of the hall, on the right. I remember, as a girl, making a beeline to her room everytime I went next door.

She was the most comfortable person I've ever known, and I mean that literally; her body was the best seat in the house. In any house, ever. There was nothing fancy about her. She was a threadbare cotton kind of girl. She didn't wear the scritchy-stiff polyester Grandma Shafer loved (which I--the anti-ironer!--love, myself). Everything Grandma Martin wore felt like a pillowcase. You know what I'm talking about: the embroidered kind.

The skin of her arms and face was pale and soft, and her body was soft: her breasts, beneath her cotton dress, like pillows. She wore her white hair in a bun. The lenses of her glasses magnified her slightly-watery eyes.

She had candy, always, in her top drawer, and she wasn't stingy with it. She had a particular fondness for orange circus peanuts.

But what I remember about her, best, is her gift of storytelling. She never read out of a book; she spun stories out of the air. You could almost see bits and pieces of stories (foxes in chicken houses, snakes in trees) blowing and flying toward us...attaching to one another!...like pink cotton candy, in a machine. She could spin stories for hours with me on her lap: my pudgy hand fiddling with her buttons and stroking her face while I ate circus peanuts. And listened.

She died the day before my dad's birthday, in 1982. I was eight. I can still see Dad, sitting at our pine, dining-room table, his head bowed low. It was the first time I'd ever seen him cry.

Dad, Grandma Shafer, and Grandma Martin Holding Me

Responding to Jennifer's invitation to write about a person from my childhood. Visit her Getting Down with Jesus to read other stories.

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