By the time I was born, there was one living grandparent: my mother’s mother. She lived until I was seven, she 87, so I did know her as much as a child of seven can. I, with my parents, would visit her most Sundays. I remember a frail woman sitting in a small rocker by the window. And yet it is true that this now frail woman had given birth to nine children, raising them in the days long before any labor-saving devices. Of my own mother’s birth, (she the middle of the 9 children), it was told that my grandmother got up and started washing clothes, took to her bed for a short time, gave birth to my mother, and got up and finished the wash.
On those Sunday afternoons, my grandmother would ask me to do two things. First she would ask me to brush her hair. She would take the pins out of her long hair which was piled on top of her head and hand me the hairbrush. This hair, now thin and gray, was hard to match up with the thick, wavy red hair I saw in an old tintype. Then she would ask me to read to her from the Bible, kept beside her, explaining her eyes were old and tired.
There is one funny story. When I was about 5, I asked my grandmother, “How old is my mother?” “Oh, dearie,” she replied, “I can’t tell you that. Your mother wouldn’t like it. But she was born in 1890.” Off I skipped to the living room where my Uncle Sam was reading the newspaper. “Uncle Sam, if someone was born in 1890, how old are they now?” A smile on his face, he answered, “53.” I repeated this process about my Aunt Dot; she was 43. Neither my mother nor Dot seemed to mind that much and, in fact, seemed to think both my grandmother and I were pretty clever.
There was one thing that totally fascinated me. If we were there during a rainstorm, particularly one with wind, my grandmother would exclaim, “Mercy help us, the Saxby Gale!” Some years ago I did a bit of research and learned that in 1869, when my grandmother would have been 11 years old, there was a very unusual weather event around the Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick, Canada) , near where she lived. Called a tropical cyclone, the storm surge caused extensive damage and, at some points, is still considered the highest surge on record in the world. It got its name because a man named Saxby, scoffed at by all, predicted it.
Though the memories are few, I am glad that I have them so that my grandmother is more than just a picture in an album to me.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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