A Cupful of Love

After my grandfather passed away in 2007 family members gathered at his home to sort through memories and belongings and keepsakes. My grandmother had preceded her husband in death, 17 years before. As my mother and aunt set aside the items they wanted to keep, they allowed my sisters and me to claim some small mementos for ourselves.

I knew what I wanted, and rummaged through kitchen cupboards to find it. Lost among bowls and mismatched glasses and countless plastic containers, I found what I was searching for. The old aluminum measuring cup was a bit scratched and dented and had not been used in many years. That did not matter to me. No one else wanted it and my family allowed me to claim it. I was thrilled.

A Cupful of Love

My grandfather, Pop, taught me about gardening. My Grandma Mildred taught me two things…how to crochet and how to bake. I have such fond memories of standing on a chair in her homey kitchen, an apron wrapped around me, watching carefully as Grandma prepared a cake from scratch or whipped up a cream pie or stirred together a batch of gooey chocolate chip cookies.

When I was young, I was given the important job of measuring out ingredients such as sugar, flour and Crisco shortening. Grandma would plunk down that metal cup and her big old aluminum shifter and I would get to work. It was so satisfying to measure out the ingredients and magical to my young and curious self, to see flour and sugar and eggs and shortening combine and become something more, something beyond what they could be alone.

A Cupful of Love

Those times spent with my grandmother in her kitchen created a lifelong desire to cook and be creative with food. Grandma Mildred was patient with me, answering my questions and not minding if a bit of eggshell got mixed in with the cookie dough. She laughed often, told stories about being on the farm and taught me that a good cook cleans up her mess after the fun is done.

That measuring cup become more to me that a kitchen tool. I loved to drink out of it, although being aluminum, that probably wasn’t the best of ideas! I liked how cold the outside of the cup got when I filled it with chunks of ice. It made a great container to eat chocolate chips out of, mix flour and water in to make paste for craft projects, and to hold a stash of sharpened pencils ready for my young artist’s hands.

The cup came to represent my grandmother and my childhood. It represented love. I am grateful to have it.

A Cupful of Love

I’ve owned the measuring cup for 11 years now, and I have not really known what to do with it, beyond storing it in my own kitchen cupboard. Because it is made from aluminum, I do not use it to measure out ingredients. And at this stage in my journey, I no longer use refined sugar or white flour or shortening in my cooking.

However, this past week I discovered another use for the priceless cup. Earlier this year I located and purchased a children’s book, in two different versions, that was significant to me when I was a toddler. You can read about A Penny for Candy HERE. In honor of the book, I’ve been collecting pennies that I find on the ground. In the story, the children use their found pennies to buy candy. I figured when I had collected enough pennies I’d purchase a lottery ticket. I’m not actually very good at finding money on the ground, primarily because I rarely look down as I walk. So my stash is small, but growing.

I’ve wondered what to use to hold my penny collection. Now I know. The measuring cup is the perfect receptacle for the coins. I estimate it can easily hold 100 pennies, which would add up to a dollar. And there’s a triple connection to my grandmother. She owned the cup. I have wonderful loving memories of laughing and cooking in her kitchen when I look at the cup. And, the story goes, when you find a penny on the ground, it is a “penny from heaven” placed there by a loved one who has passed away.

I think about the cup as a pennies from heaven holder, and my perspective shifts. Beyond picking up coins to save for a lottery ticket, this has now become a new game to play, between my grandmother and me. I found a penny today and I loved the sound it made as I dropped it into the metal cup. I suspect I’ll find more pennies now and when the cup is full, I’ll ask my grandmother what she wants to do with them. I can hear her amused chuckle already.

A Cupful of Love

Remembrance Stories

I had the pleasure of driving my mom to a couple of cemeteries today, to carry out the Memorial Weekend tradition of placing flowers on loved ones’ graves. It’s been a while since I’ve visited the final resting places of my maternal grandparents and my stepfather. Pop and my stepdad Max were both veterans. It was very fitting to honor them and my grandmother, who rests alongside Pop.

My favorite part of the trip though was having my sweet mother to myself. I got to ask her questions about grandparents and great grandparents and a vintage piece that belonged to great great great great grandparents, and hear her stories.

Remembrance Stories

Our first stop was in the tiny town of Lanagan, about 40 miles south of Joplin. My grandparents are buried there. Mom and I climbed the hill to Grandma and Pop’s graves. It was a much steeper hill than we remembered! We giggled and held onto each other as we made the ascent.

Pop served with honor in the US Army, during WW II, receiving the Bronze Star Medal. He and my grandmother were married for almost 50 years. Pop was not my biological grandfather. After he came home from the war, he met my grandmother, who was a widow with three children. Mom laughs when she says he must have been shell-shocked, to take on a ready made family! He was a good hearted, faithful man, and raised my mom and her brother and sister as his own. And grandma was a fun, loving woman who made life an adventure. My grandparents were quite a pair.

Remembrance Stories

Remembrance Stories

As we left the cemetery, my mom offered to show me where she lived in Lanagan, when her biological dad was killed. I had never seen anything in Lanagan beyond the cemetery or the strip of houses and the post office on the main highway. I wanted to see where my mom lived when she was four.

Mom’s daddy, my grandpa Bill, died tragically when he was just 33 years old, leaving behind his wife and three young children. I’ve heard the story many times, about how he died trying to get home in a snow storm. He never arrived. His truck slid off the road and into a pole. He worked at Fort Crowder, to the north, and was about to join the war in Europe, when he had the accident. Although I never met this grandfather, I have a strong spiritual connection to him.

Remembrance Stories

Remembrance Stories

We found the corner where the house used to be. Mom said it was a cute, log cabin style house. It’s gone now. Across the street on the other corner is the church where Bill Gregory’s funeral was held. So close to the house it was, a constant reminder for my grandmother of the tragedy that altered her life. Grandpa Bill is buried in Pea Ridge Arkansas, with the rest of the Gregorys. We will visit his grave soon.

Our last stop was at a cemetery in Joplin, where my stepfather is buried. Like Pop, Max took on a ready made family! He was a hard working, creative man who only had to give his attention to something to make it flourish. He served honorably in the US Navy during WW II.

Remembrance Stories

Remembrance Stories

Although Max had his pilot’s license, he did not like flying over water. So he and Mom never traveled abroad, but they visited all of the continental states in their RV. He was good to my sisters and me, and a wonderful papa to our children. It is strange to see my mom’s name already etched on the stone, but it doesn’t bother her a bit. I want to keep her healthy and with us for a long, long time!

I enjoyed hearing my mom’s stories and seeing the corner where she lived for a time. I asked to hear the stories behind a couple of vintage items that she has given me, and I’m glad I asked! I had two of the stories mingled together.

It is special to me to hear family stories, and imagine those people as they lived their lives, with joys and with sorrows. I want to be the keeper of their stories, while honoring them.

It’s even more important to me to enjoy the living. In asking questions and listening to my mom’s stories, I honor her now, and hear her great heart.

Remembrance Stories

A Grandmother’s Wisdom

Today’s story came as the result of an exercise in It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again. I’m working in chapter three, on connections. This question popped up during the Memoir Task, for ages 10-15.

Describe a time you felt supported during this period.

The first person who came to mind was Grandma Mildred.

A Grandmother’s Wisdom

This time period was full of big changes for me. My parents had divorced when I was nine. Instead of being estranged after the divorce, my mom and dad remained friendly and did a remarkable job of creating a supportive environment for me and my two younger sisters. I didn’t fully appreciate how amazing their joint parenting was until later.

However, immediately after I completed 6th grade, my mom made the difficult decision to move from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Noel, Missouri with her daughters. From my adult perspective I can understand why she made that choice. Her parents lived in that tiny town, right across the street from the elementary/junior high school. They were available to help with childcare. It was probably cheaper to live in Noel. And my mom had secured a job on Main Street in a clothing store.

Adult me understands. Twelve year old me was not happy about the move. I felt torn away from friends I had known all my short life. My classmates were moving on to Nathan Hale Junior High in Tulsa, without me. My dad now lived 113 miles away instead of a couple of miles. I would no longer be spending weekends with him. I didn’t like our rental house. And to go from a big city, full of places to visit and activities to do, to a tiny, sleepy town where nothing much seemed to happen was a culture shock. There is a great deal of charm to be found in small towns, but at the time I felt like I had been plopped down in Mayberry, and I didn’t see that as a favorable thing. Saying I was unhappy is an understatement. I was devastated.

As a result of the move, for the first time in my life, I experienced depression. I withdrew from everything and everyone. While my mom worked, my sisters and I stayed at our grandparents’ house during those long summer days. I sat day after day in my grandmother’s big old rocking chair, slowly rocking, staring at the wall, listening to Pop’s country and western albums on the record player. I could identify with those life has done me wrong songs.

A Grandmother’s Wisdom My grandmother with my pony Ginger. This photo was taken the summer I was 13.

I honestly can’t remember what my sisters were doing after the move, or how they were doing. My focus narrowed down so much that I was only aware of my own dark little corner of the world and my misery. I might have stayed in that rocking chair all summer but after a suitable amount of time had passed, my grandmother intervened.

Her first plan of action was to gather together a group of girls who would be my classmates in my new school. It can be awkward and difficult meeting strangers, especially when one doesn’t want to. But after all the trouble she went to making arrangements, I couldn’t say no to her request. I finally got out of that chair and her house to interact with others. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the arranged meeting and some of those girls became good friends.

Inactivity was giving my mind too much time to dwell on Tulsa. Grandma remedied that. She invited me to help her bake goodies and snap green beans we picked from Pop’s garden and turn the crank on the manual ice cream maker. I began doing more and rocking in the chair less, thanks to her gentle encouragement.

And finally, one week before the fall semester started, my grandmother escorted me over to the junior high end of the school. She didn’t want me to walk into a strange place on the first day of school. The school was open as teachers prepared classrooms. We walked from room to room together. In the science/math room I met Mr. Stiles, a young teacher fresh out of college. He was new to teaching, although Noel was his hometown. He paused in his work to greet us and made me feel welcomed. When school started, I knew a few of the girls, and I knew the science/math teacher.

Writing about these memories today, I realized how incredibly wise and loving my grandmother was, and how supportive. She didn’t shame me or scold me for the way I felt. And, she didn’t allow me to wallow in my sorrow for long either. After letting me experience my feelings for a time, she got me up and engaging with life again. Grandma introduced me to my first friends in Noel, made sure my transition to a different school went smoothly, and got me busy with tasks to shift my thoughts, all while offering me her presence.

Kids and young teens can and do experience depression. I suspect it’s more common now than when I was a child. Withdrawal, lack of interest in things once enjoyed, anger, tears, fear, silence, acting out, poor school work and being disagreeable are all signs that a child may be struggling. How grateful I am for my grandmother, who recognized my depression and took steps to help me. If her actions had not succeeded I have no doubt she would have sought additional help for me.

Everything turned out fine. I made lots of new friends. I did well in school. I spent summers with my dad. We moved out of that rental and into a brand new house. And although I never became a big fan of small town living, I did come to recognize the benefits of a close knit community. As an adult I moved to a medium sized city. I love Joplin.

Thank you, Grandma Mildred, for bringing a sad mopey 12 year old back into the light of happiness. I love you. And I hope, as a grandmother myself now, I can be as wise.

A Grandmother’s Wisdom Me with Ginger, just before she got a good brushing.