My Grandmother: Part 2
Diana McIntosh Saunders b. 1858 m. 1880 d. 1945
Though my first-hand memories of my grandmother are few, I have my Aunt Dot and my mother to thank for countless stories about her. One of the characteristics of good family storytellers is that they repeat the story over and over through the years until their memory becomes your memory. And so it is with Aunt Dot and my mother and their familiar stories about their mother, my grandmother. And come to think of it, my grandmother must have been a storyteller also as some of these situations occurred before even my mother, the older of the two sisters , would have been there.
One such story is that of my grandmother’s nine children, she lost two, each at about age 2, to whooping cough – or was it diphtheria? Anyway, she was in the advanced stages of pregnancy when Bertie, aged two, and already extremely ill, raised his little arms, signaling for my grandmother to pick him up. My grandmother’s sisters were there and cautioned her against picking him up as in those days (the 1880’s) they thought that action might cause the umbilical cord of the unborn child to wrap around its neck. So my grandmother didn’t pick Bertie up. He died soon after this, and to her own dying day she regretted the decision.
Some ten or so years after these infant deaths, another child had such a severe case of pneumonia that the doctor gave him only days to live. Unwilling to lose another child, my grandmother kept applying onion poultices until he was well. Believe it or not, today the Internet and particularly YouTube have directions on how to make an onion poultice. It is evidently a popular natural remedy for chest ailments.
My grandmother probably got up at some ungodly hour to start washing clothes, so sometime during the day would be overcome by the need for a nap. (Hmm; so that’s where I got that habit.) She would lie down and with however many children she had at that time playing all around her, she would sleep. One story goes that sometimes the boys would lean a piece of wood against the bed, jump on the bed and slide down the board. My grandmother slept through it all.
In 1890 my grandparents left New Brunswick, Canada, and settled in Boston on Longwood Avenue in the area of many of today’s medical centers. My grandfather worked nearby and came home around noon each day, expecting a hot meal. It seemed there were always random men enjoying a meal in the kitchen. Eventually my grandmother learned that hobos, as they were called, had etched a mark on the fence-post indicating, “Kind woman here.”
Throughout her life, my grandmother was known for being able to remake garments. She could Cut down a man’s overcoat and make a boy’s jacket. She could turn trousers into a skirt. For Christmas she would create something special for each child – knitted mittens, a hat, a scarf, and Dot reported that often the gift was still damp from being pressed or blocked as my grandmother had stayed up most of the night to finish the items before Christmas morning.
My grandmother’s hands must never have been idle as into her late 80’s she made braided rugs, crocheted afghans, and created patchwork quilts. Her rag bag was legend. She could find the right cloth for any patch, and if someone needed a button, they would go to my grandmother, and she’d find the perfect match. The Christmas I was five, my doll came dressed in a burgundy velvet cloak with fur around the hood. The fur, the velvet, and a series of tiny gold buttons came from that ragbag and were fashioned by Dot into an elegant cloak. Of course I thought the doll came from Santa, but by coincidence I named her Diana Christine after my grandmother.
My grandmother did not have an easy life. Apart from the physical labor of cooking, washing, and cleaning for a large family, she suffered deep losses. Having lost two toddlers, she was left a widow at 58, and also lost one grandchild , aged 18, in an auto accident and another and his wife, both in their 20’s, at Cocoanut Grove. As I think about my grandmother, she must have had amazing inner strength, much of it coming from a simple but steady Christian faith. She had a strength her grown children drew on as long as she was alive. They all remained close to her, some continuing to live with her, others living not far away and visiting regularly. I know that if my Aunt Dot or my mother had a problem or loss, the first person they sought out was their mother. And yet I believe she also had joy in her life. She requested the hymn “Heavenly Sunlight” be sung at her funeral, and I like to picture her with her soul “flooded with glory divine.”
© Dorothy C. Judd
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