My two grandmothers were both lovely, brave women with a rock-solid trust in God. And yet, they were very different from each other. I loved them equally, and I miss them both. As a writer, I can see the stamp of their influence on my work just as clearly as I see it on my life. For the unique ways they touched my childhood, I am eternally grateful.
Grandma L. was a country woman. She gave me the gift of experiences. She was the one who taught me to love flowers—their colors, their scents, and their names. Without her, perhaps I would never have known the difference between an iris and a peony, a black-eyed Susan and a bachelor’s button. She showed me where to find mushrooms sprouting up in the woods and how to climb high in the trees to pick walnuts and cherries. She took me boating at the pond, let me drive the old green pickup down the gravel road, and pushed me on the tire swing. I reveled in the stories she made up at bedtime, scary enough to send shivers down my spine. She taught me to distinguish the hoot of an owl and the song of a bullfrog. Because of her, I learned to ride a horse, pick and shell peas, shinny up the side of a silo, and thread a lure on a fishing line. I learned to love warm June evenings under a star-studded sky and Christmases in a snow-covered farmhouse filled with the aroma of fresh-cut pine. And I learned to love writing poems to the creak of her porch swing, pausing often to chew on my pencil and gaze across the road and the open field to the line of trees at the edge of the world.
Grandma B. gave me different gifts. She lived in a modest brick apartment building downtown. Every week she rode a bus to our side of the city and spent the evening with us. And every time she came, she brought me a new book. I still have a whole shelf full of those little children’s books—ragged and dog-eared now from small fingers thumbing through the pages. I still have the memory of Grandma’s voice reading those books to me. Her voice was calm and quiet, and sometimes her wonderful laughter would bubble to the surface and warm me all through. I learned to love reading. I learned to love pictures. And I learned that the combination of a compelling story and beautiful pictures could move me deeply, lodge in my very core, and become a part of who I was.
Neither of my grandmothers lived a very flashy life. Both were widowed and spent much of their later lives alone. Neither ever lived very far from the place where she was born. Neither went to college. Neither was formally a teacher, yet both taught me things I could never have learned in school. Neither had piles of wealth to pass along to her descendants. Yet each, in her own way, made me rich. Without even realizing it, they filled my writer’s toolbox with the choicest and most useful of tools. They both gave me stories—stories I am still telling. And they both gave me the great treasure of love.