Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Letter for Dorothy Jane

Dear Grandma,

I love this photo of you.  It reminds me of the hours we whiled away looking at old family photographs.  You would explain the identity of the people in the fading, yellowing images; usually a story about them would surface, too.  If Pappy was around, he'd have some well-chewed nugget of dry humour to add to the conversation.

During my early teen years, I spent so much time at your house.  I'd run across the field that separated our homes, excited about visiting you.  In the midst of busy farm days, cooking and cleaning "for the men", you always had time for me.  After raising three sons, you delighted in your granddaughters and so often told us how much you appreciated having girls around.  You loved to show us clothes you'd bought, outfits you would put together, your new curtains, a plan for another colour scheme somewhere in the house, your fine china and Depression glass. At the time I didn't understand, but now I see how you wanted us to enjoy the beauty you saw in those things.  You would take out your jewellery box and allow us to play with the heirloom rings and necklaces, each piece with its own story of the person who wore it. You would carefully lift your wedding dress, sewn by your mother, from the wooden chest Pappy had made for you, and let me try it on.  What fun I had, strutting down your hallway, trying to evoke some hint of 1950's glamour in my skinny, pigtailed self. 

I'd sit next to you, fascinated, while you "put your face on" in front of the mirror, various make-up pots and compacts arranged around you. You were always sure to tell me, too, that I didn't need make-up. You'd say, "Grandma has to wear this because she's old.  She's not young and purty like you." With your face on, you would often then, ironically, don work clothes, and work just as hard as "the men", your collective term for my grandpa and my great-uncle. I'd often glimpse you out in the enormous vegetable garden, pushing a rototiller with strong arms, resolved not to let the weeds take over your tomatoes or potatoes.  Not an easy feat in the sweltering heat of a midwest US summer.  You were always very determined.  I think that's why I like the photo above.  A hint of your strong-minded nature somehow shines through, even in this image of you as a three-year-old.  

I remember watching you work during laundry time at your house. You hung all of your clothes out on the line if the weather was fair, and didn't acquire a dryer until sometime in the early '90s, if I remember correctly.  During rainy weather or in winter, there would inevitably be clothes drying in your cozy little basement, near the wood-burning stove.  The combination of woodsmoke and fresh laundry scent was delicious.  We visited that basement many a time during bad weather.  "Tarnado weather" you called it.  Somehow it never seemed as scary in your house.  You always found a way to distract us kids, even if we could tell you were afraid yourself.  

So many of my memories involve watching you at work!  Singing little songs, gossiping, telling stories about long-gone family members while you peeled potatoes in a bowl on your lap.  Talking away, sometimes to yourself if we were in the other room, while you prepared a meal.  Then the phone would ring, and it would be my uncle, or your best buddy Janice, or a friend from your ladies' club, and you would talk to them for what seemed like forever.  

There were many stories you told that we heard over and over again. I wish I could remember more of them. You were a very extroverted thinker; your thoughts were always out there for all of us to hear.  For instance, your name. You hated it.  Dorothy Jane.  Plain and ugly, you said opinionatedly.  We loved it.  It was you.

You were firm and decisive during the card games you loved so much: Uno, Progressive Rummy, Back Alley, Skip-Bo. You won so many of them.

The only time your staunchness ever crumbled was when you watched movies.  You cried while you watched Shirley Temple movies.  You cried during 1940's cowboy films.  You especially cried when watching "Little House on the Prairie" or "The Sound of Music".  Watching TV with you was never complete without a few crumpled tissues in your hand, and the sound of your sniffling throughout.  We never questioned this; it never seemed strange.  It was just you.

There are so many other memories crowding in now.  Sitting in front of the television watching Olympic figure skating together, sewing, making Christmas candy, eating popcorn and apples, playing cards and Yahtzee, watching you make sweet cucumber pickles and can juice from your homegrown tomatoes, looking at your beautiful African violets, learning from you how to prepare homemade egg noodles and pie and so many other scrumptious treats, eating your yummy cooking.  

In spite of your busyness, you gave the gift of your time to me, to my sisters and brothers and cousins, and to so many others.  We will always remember, and we'll always be thankful.  

Goodbye, Grandma: you loyal, reliable, opinionated, strong homemaking woman of a fast-disappearing era.  I think I'll always feel the tug of your apron strings around my heart.

Love you always,


  1. Thanks Erin, that was beautiful. Grandma Dot will be very missed :(

  2. Oh Erin, sending you hugs, you are in our prayers,and grandma Dot of course! Love, Jenni x

  3. Sis, thank you for the tribute to Mom. I know she was very simple and yet complex in many ways. Your remembrance of her in the things you described helps me to see her in a very encouraging light. Your letter will be inspiring to all who hear it at the gathering on Thursday.


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