Saturday, May 10, 2008

Judy remembers her grandparents

Little Judy Anne Harden with her grandmothers: (back) Florence Harden, Florence Sanders, her mother, Linda Sanders Harden, Lillie Ferguson, May Sanders, (front) Hattie Bard, Agnes Harden.

I guess some of my very earliest memories involve my grandparents, both sides. I was a fortunate child to have had 4 grandparents living until I was a young adult. I also had 4 great-grandmothers and one great grandfather alive when I was very little. I do not remember some of them, but others I remember very well.

I remember going to church at the Christian camp with grandmother Florence, and a few times to the church in Lexington. She made me sit still and be quiet, and I was not allowed to fall asleep, lest it become a habit.

I seemed to stay with the Harden grandparents more than the Sanders, I suppose because my folks didn’t want Don and me to fight, and as rambunctious as he was, they thought the two of us would drive our grandparents crazy.

Don stayed with the Hardens during the last half of his senior year in high school, after my folks had moved to Garden City, so he got his fair share of Grandma and Grandpa. But when the folks were away, I always seemed to stay with the Harden grandparents, and Don stayed over at Protection with May and Clemmie Sanders.

During one of those stays, I accompanied Grandmother to a doctor’s appointment in Wichita. It seems like we may have stayed overnight, I’m not sure. But I do remember that we were going up in an elevator (my first time) and the operator was a Negro. I suppose I stared at him, because we didn’t have black people back home. I remember that I asked Grandma why the man looked like that and she just said that that was the way God had made him. And that settled that. I suppose I was 3 years old or so. I never learned discrimination because it wasn’t taught. Sometimes we talked about how poor and unfortunate black people were, but we never made fun of them. That may have been the same trip where I nearly got run over by a fire truck. I was frightened by something and ran ahead of Grandma and Grandpa, and as I ran toward the car, a fire truck emerged from a driveway right in front of me. I had only seen pictures of them in story books up to that time.

And oh! The stories!! Grandmother expected us to take a nap after lunch, and to make that more appealing (I always fought naps), she read stories. Bible stories, historical stories and a lot of stories about great women: Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, Dorothea Dix and Jane Addams, among others. Grandma also told stories about her growing up years, and stories about her own children. I guess I learned to read by listening to Grandma read aloud to me. I followed along as she read and learned many words ahead of my class. I couldn’t wait to learn to read for myself.

Grandpa told stories too, but I never knew if he was pulling my leg or not. He was a great kidder, and I suppose some of the fish tales he told me were obvious to others, but not to me. I believed everything he said.

Grandpa had retired by the time I was old enough to remember. I remember him smoking a cigar a time or two, but not for long. He always had some project going. He seemed to personally supervise the building of the church, the Highway 160 CafĂ©, the museum, and I know he also took great interest in the farming operations that Dad and my uncles were involved in. He always seemed to be doing something. Grandpa did most of the grocery shopping, but Grandma ordered them over the phone and had them delivered, too. And I remember how their house smelled…like Grandma’s cold cream.

I sort of lost my close contact with them after I went to college. I visited them of course, but didn’t see them on a weekly basis. After I moved back to Ashland, Grandma became a great source of wisdom for me. I think she was the smartest woman I ever knew…not just facts on the Bible, but other everyday stuff, current events, cooking, sewing, budgeting, it seemed like anything I asked her about, she had an answer or suggestion. And thankfully, she never offered advice in anything but a helpful, loving and non-judgmental way. That was the best part. As we discussed world events, Grandma would say that the world would live in peace only when people learned to love the way Jesus taught: without hatred, jealousy, or judgmental attitudes, simply accepting people as they were, not as we would have them to be.

And I was taught by Grandma and Grandpa to be as generous as possible. The family has no idea of the number of people they helped, not only financially, but in other ways. And how many people they testified to about the love of God!! They had a great influence on the whole community, and not just their family.

Grandad outlived Grandma by several years, and unfortunately, his mind wasn’t as good as it had been, so there were many times he didn’t know when, or where, he was. I saw him daily at the nursing home, since I worked at the hospital, and he always knew me. But there were other family members he didn’t know. I always thought his mind was like one of those lantern shows, where scenes pass back and forth in front of you as you watch. He would confuse his children with his parents, and there were times when he didn’t know Grandma. In his mind, she was still the 20-year-old girl he had married, and at 92, Grandma had changed, so he didn’t recognize her at all.

One day he was worried about something and was quite agitated. He needed to talk to the folks about something. It took a minute, but I finally realized that he was talking about his parents. I made the mistake of saying that they had been dead for a long time, and that sent him into tears. It was as if he was reliving some day in his childhood, and his parents were alive and well. After that, I tried not to upset him. Sometimes he was looking for a pail to water the horse, or needed his car keys to get the mail. The staff always remarked at how smart he was….he could do pretty complex math problems in his head. And he was always looking for something to fix.

Needless to say, I miss my grandparents, all of them. But I am so glad to have known them. They taught me everything I know and hold dear…not the technical or clinical stuff, of course, but the day-to-day secrets of living. And the joy of being accepted and loved, no matter what naughty thing I had done. They never judged or criticized. I guess it was their way of letting me make my own mistakes and learning from them. I only wish I had been smart enough to listen to their opinions.

(I don't know who Dorothea Dix was, (here's her Wikipedia page) but there is or was a large psychiatric hospital here in Raleigh named for her. It recently closed, but it sits on a beautiful piece of undeveloped land on a hill overlooking the city. Some people want to turn it into a park to honor Dix and preserve this lovely spot. Some just want to put townhouses and stores on it, I guess.)

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