My Grandma was fond of saying that her two boys never gave her a moment's trouble. However, her three daughters were a different story, given my grandma's firm hand, their rebellious natures, and the strictness of the times they lived in. They struggled against grandma through their teens. Grandma told me her friends used to say to her, "Flo, what in hell has happened to your children?"
I think my mom was the ringleader. At school, she scandalized the nuns and mortified my grandma by rolling down her itchy long black stockings, whipping out my grandpa's razor, and shaving all the girls' legs, encouraging them to roll down their stockings too.
Their grandma, my grandma's mother, "Grandma Julie", lived with them through those teen years, sharing a large upstairs bedroom with the three sisters. My mom had a special bond with her grandma. Called Renee, she was named Irene Julia in her honor, and they affectionately called each other Julie. Grandma Julie hailed from County Cork in Ireland, and was a small woman.
Above, she looks demure and quiet, but she was in cahoots with the girls. It was Grandma Julie who taught the girls to smoke. "We'd wait for her old age pension cheque to come," my mom would reminisce. "It was small, but she always bought us a little treat with it, and she'd share her smokes. In winter, on the Prairies, it might be forty below outside, but we'd open the window a crack and line up our smokes along the sill, fanning the smoke out hastily when we heard Mother stomping up the stairs."
One night great thumps and crashes and shrieks of giggles could be heard upstairs in "the girls' room" and Floss told Wilf, "Go up there and settle those girls down. They'll be keeping Ma awake." Reluctantly, Wilf rolled up his Saturday Evening Post, hefting it as if to provide himself with some authority, and trudged up the stairs. A door opening......silence......then his footsteps coming back down.
"They were having a pillow fight and Ma was right up there on the bed in the thick of it!"
That time seems almost as real to me as my own past, so often were the stories told, and so vividly do I imagine them.
I remember my Grandma telling me about her own childhood. She thought the world of her father and respected that he was one of the men who engineered the track for the railroad that eventually traveled across Canada. She told me where they camped, near the work site, there were ruts in the ground where, not long before, covered wagons had traveled the same route.
My grandmother's hatred of "the drink" stemmed from her childhood. She told me her father came home one night "so tipsy he danced around the kitchen holding the jug of moonshine." I can see my Grandma's appalled face now, as she described this. But then she couldnt help laughing at the thought of her dad hugging the jug to his bosom and dancing.
One other night wasnt so humorous. Her father got his shotgun out, and was waving it around. Floss and her mother, this same Grandma Julie, fled in terror to hide in the barn, the occasional shot ringing out the front door as he yelled and cursed in the kitchen. They didnt go back to the house until he had fallen asleep.
Apparently, her dad doted on her. She was the youngest, the "Baby", and when she left home to get married, he would go to her sister Daisy's house and cry about how much he missed her.
I wish now that I had taken the time to write down more of the details of those years and of Grandma Julie. I believe I was told that after her husband died, my grandmother's brother, Frank, may have taken over the family farm. I remember my mother saying Grandma Julie lived several months at a time with each of her children in turn. I know my own grandmother told me many times how much she loved having her with her and that my grandpa welcomed her as well.
"I remember Ma would ask me if I would do her hair, or help her with something, and I was always so busy. I had all the kids, so much work to do, and Ma would ask me, then answer herself, 'Oh, I know, no time, no time, no time!' I wish I had taken the time when she asked," my Grandma said sadly. "Now I know how she felt. Everyone is so busy, no one has any time for the old."
And now I am a great-grandmother, which amazes me. I dont feel very old, yet when I was a child these women seemed ancient to me. As I likely do to my grandkids. Though I am not your prosaic grandma, no dresses, knitting or fancywork for me. I suspect I have a streak of Grandma Julie in me. More likely to be having a pillow fight with the kids than lecturing them on manners:)