A Letter To Grandmother

A Letter to Grandmother

By Richard R. Walkup

 

 

Dear Mom,

The other day I found a box of old greeting cards, letters and other memorabilia that upon reading, resurrected sweet and sour memories that I had thought were long buried in the grave of my childhood. I read through letters that you had written and some you had received from your sister in Washington State in 1942. Back then I was eight years old and my sisters were seven and one. You were our grandmother, yet we called you Mom because for seven or eight critical years you and Dad—grandpa—were our parents.

Your health wasn’t good, grandpa didn’t make much money, and our abode, even by the standards of that time and the area in which we lived, wasn’t much to brag about. We had running water, but no access to the public sewer system. We used a wood-burning stove in the fall to save on the expense of coal, but in the dead of winter, a large coal heater was our friend.

But there were also things back then that were priceless. Our yard—that part of it that had not been converted to a victory garden and a grape arbor—was large compared to the yards of most kids in that neck of the woods. We lived on an acre and a half of hilly ground that was decorated with your flowers and shrubs, and guarded by four monolithic Oak trees—one gargantuan nearly two hundred years old. It reached out from the lower end of our property at the juncture of two creeks like a benevolent giant. Dad had attached a bag swing to one of its huge arms and on other limbs, a trapeze and a conventional rope swing hung. He built a fish pond and a barbecue pit that was the envy of the neighborhood. On warm summer evenings as we played kick the can or tag in the back yard, you and Dad would sit past dark on a glider swing beneath the giant Oak tree listening to the raucous songs of cicadas, while giant troupes of fireflies danced and twinkled for our entertainment. Occasionally, I could hear you slapping at squadrons of pesky mosquitoes. Finally as dark gave way to a deeper summer night, and as the number of vampires grew, you and Dad would surrender to them and retreat to the comfort of the house, with its screens and lights and radio. Life was delicious then.

During those early years, I don’t remember exactly when, there were wartime blackouts and scrap and paper drives at school. As the years passed and we grew older and wiser I remember overhearing quiet yet disturbing conversations between you and Dad. Your health had deteriorated and Dad struggled to keep his job and wondered how he would support us when he was forced to retire. I don’t remember exactly what was said in these conversations, because we weren’t supposed to be listening, but there were references to orphanages and adoption. I can tell you it was very scary.

Our mother, divorced several years earlier, was with her new husband in New York City, waiting for the war to end, awaiting the end of his final Merchant Marine cruise. My father’s new wife also awaited daddy’s return from faraway places like Okinawa, Saipan, and other killing fields that I have long forgotten. Yes they waited. My father waited, my mother waited, but it seemed they waited not for us.

In the end, we were not shipped off to an orphanage, or adopted out, because, Mom, in spite of your failing health and Dad’s struggle to keep food on the table, you loved us too much to take that easy way out. Too bad I didn’t recognize the depth of your love in that time. I thought I understood love when I was eight, I dearly loved my dog, Shep, and the cats that you yourself loved, and I loved and missed my mother terribly in faraway New York City, but in those days before you passed on I never recognized the love of sacrifice that was yours. Forgive me, Mom, I just didn’t understand.

And then, the other day, I found that letter you had written to your sister, Eva, back in 1942. You were torn with future grief over what would become of your grandchildren whose parents had all but abandoned them to you. You worried that you would not live long enough to raise those precious kids to maturity. You fretted over their moral development after you were gone, with no one left to guide them.

“Certainly not their father.” You lamented. “My own son—my own flesh and blood—who discarded these kids in favor of a brand new wife and family. And not their mother, who professed to love them and seemed to suffer the weight of guilt, yet chose to cling to her new man in New York City.”

Reading those tortured words revealed the true depth of your concern. I sensed your bitter loss of hope that anything would ever come of these kids that you loved so dearly. I sensed the deep despair in your words, could almost feel the hot tears of your pain.

You died, dear Mom, before you were able to reap the rewards of your selfless love. I wondered if your dying thoughts dripped with the despair revealed in your letter to Sister Eva? I hope not, because you didn’t fail us. We turned out fine in spite of the weight of life that we all bore. You gave us the foundation to build on, and we chose to build.

My only wish now is to somehow convey to you, wherever you may be, that we made it—that we turned out just fine.

Thanks, Mom.

 

 

 

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