Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Learned Mothering from Them: Part Three

Iris Rose Ott Olsen 1915-2008

All of us have two grandmothers. I am blessed to have called one my friend.

Memories of my Grandma Olsen start from when I was very young—eating hearty breakfasts, playing “the widow” in Rook games, sleeping on the floor of her bedroom when we’d visit Utah. I spent one week with her all by myself when I was eight years old, helping her prepare for her family’s reunion. I don’t remember the reunion, but I do remember my own personal tour of her station at the Snelgrove’s candy dipping factory and buying the biggest lollipop I ever saw. I was her Jenny-Girl, and I knew I was special.

Our adult relationship began just after I was married—when she and Grandpa moved from Salt Lake City to Orem. I spent a few afternoons helping her unpack her kitchen and fridge (that ancient rust fridge from the 60s, I’m sure). And we’d talk. She would tell me stories and stories and stories, and I would listen and laugh. She had a way of storytelling. And her southern Utah accent and dialect (karn for corn, fay-vor-ight for favorite) will stay with me always. I only lived three minutes away, a straight shot down 800 East, and I made this trip often.

About two years later, Heidi was born—her first great-grand. Heidi’s birth was frightening—emergency C-section, and we both could have died. When Grandma and Grandpa came to the hospital, Brad told them that they could go see Heidi in the NICU, but that I wasn’t allowed any visitors. Grandma recounted this experience to me many times. And every time her voice would catch on the words, “and I told Grandpa, she’s too little, she’ll never make it.” I wasn’t allowed to drive for two weeks, and Grandma would drive me to the hospital every day to see Heidi. As Heidi got bigger and stronger, Grandma would hold her and feast on her, and, just like I’d been her Jenny-Girl, Grandma now had her Heidi-Baby-Doll.

Grandma was in her late seventies then, but she watched Heidi while I finished my degree at BYU. Heidi went through a stage where she wouldn’t take a bottle, but Grandma insisted that when she’s hungry, she’ll eat. When I got back a few hours later, I found them on the couch, a cupful of milk in Grandma’s hand and tears running down both their faces. “I just couldn’t get her to take it, Honey.”

I had false labor with Tucker twice before he was actually born, and each time it came in the middle of the night. Each time I called my grandma, and each time she’d be up waiting for her Baby Doll with a freshly made bed on her bedroom floor, just like I used to sleep on.

Her memory was sharp until the end. She kept track of all five of her kids, their kids, and their kids’ kids. She knew who had had a baby, what the baby’s name was and how everyone was doing. Because that was what really mattered--all that mattered-- to her. She was never too busy for her family. Her vision got kind of bad and her hearing was worse, but she always wanted to be surrounded by her family, whether she could hear what was going on or not, whether it exhausted her for days afterward. When she could no longer physically help, she insisted she still know everything about all her extended family, even though she’d worry. Because, she said, "All I can do is pray now.” Straight from her mouth to God’s ears.

Mom and my sisters and I would stay with her every May so that we could attend Women’s Conference at BYU. She didn’t come, but she would love to hear us retell what we’d learned and talk with us into the night.

The last time I taught EFY at BYU in 2008, I surprised her on her doorstep with a phone call, since she could no longer hear the doorbell. “Grandma, it’s Jenny.” “How are you, Honey,?” “I’m at your door.” “Welllll.” And we sat on her couch and talked and laughed, just us. Just like we did when I lived three minutes down the street.

In the end, she was blessed to leave Earth quickly. And she was able to live on her own until the end—a remarkable feat for 93. Heidi and I were lucky enough to see her once more before she left. Although she was in a lot of pain, she was obviously happy to see us. Vain to the end, she kept saying, “Don’t remember your old Grandma this way.”

Grandma and I spent many hours sitting on her couch, hand in hand, just talking. And that’s when I realized we have the same hands. Grandma’s hands were never idle. She worked for years dipping chocolates for Snelgrove’s in Salt Lake, and she would dip hundreds of chocolates at Christmas, filling candy boxes for family and friends. She knew everyone’s favorites, and she’d always send you home with your hands full—mine were always mint and caramel. I remember running under many quilts up on frames as a little girl. Then, when quilting got too difficult, she’d crochet more and more: dishcloths, baby afghans, bedspreads. And she always had time “for a hand”—of Rook, or Spite and Malice. She never played to win; she just played to spend time with family. And she loved to read, whether she was “stretching out” after lunch or up late at night— with a wink she called it “m’ sleeping pill.” And if a baby was around, her hands would be full, “seein’ about the babes. I’ve always loved the babes.”

If only I can dedicate my hands to serving others the way she did.

Miss you, Grandma.
your Jenny-Girl

This week I'm writing about women in my life who have helped shape me into who I am today. On Friday, I invite you to join me in a little Mother's Day writing challenge. It seems that most women detest Mother's Day because of the guilt it conjures. We are all too hard on ourselves as women. We have faults, but we also have strengths. So:
What is one weakness you have when it comes to mothering (only one)? And now that you've identified it, how are you going to improve?
What is one of your strengths? Feel free to brag yourself up, either seriously or with humor.
On Friday, I will attempt a link post (we'll see if I'm that technically adept or not), so all can be edified thereby. Think about it. You have time. I look forward to Friday.


  1. That one made me cry. What a sweet and beautiful woman she was, and more importantly, what a beautiful relationship you had. How awesome to have such great women in your life.

  2. I loved this post. It reminded me of my relationship with my Nana, oh how I wish she could have met my kids. She loved Snelgrove ice cream, you could always count on sharing a "Snelly" with her. I hope to be a grandma like her one day. PS I grew up right off of 800 East in Orem.

  3. i'm up early with my cup of tea & tears streaming down my face- that was just beautiful...what a woman..it made me think about what kind of grandma i'd one day like to be...i've never ever thought about being more than a mother... i love this....thankyou...

    melissa x

  4. Well Jen, you did it again. Brought tears to my eyes as just last year I lost my grandmother at the age of 93 - just six weeks after my older brother died. I'm sure it was my brother's passing and having lived through my Mother's journey with Alzheimers that lead Granny to give up. She had been a widow for 19 years and like your grandmother had lived on her own in her own house. Although I was her only grandaughter she never really shared a lot of her life stories with me. She lost a brother in WWII and a sister in the Napier Earthquake which was one of NZ's big natural disasters. I do have wonderful memories of staying with her for a few nights and being very spoilt - breakfast in bed, going to places I enjoyed and learning to knit from her. She was the last of my grandparents and I miss her dearly. Thanks for making me think of her. Catherine

  5. I loved your "mothering" posts - especially this one. You captured the essence of grandma in a sweet way. She was a wonderful mother-in-law who taught me many lessons! I will have to disagree with you on one thing ... my kids and I were just talking about this ... she did play to win!

  6. What IS it about our grandmothers? My Mimi meant the very same to me. I loved reading of your time(s) together. You blessed one another...

  7. I STILL MISS HER SO MUCH! It is hard to be without such a mother, even at my age.

  8. I have tears. First, because what a beautiful relationship and an inspiration. Second, because I miss my own inspiration, my grandmother. This is a great series you're doing and it's so sweet to see you surrounded by awesome ladies.

  9. I miss my grandmas too. I really, really miss them. Thanks for sharing your sweet memories.

  10. Ok, now you have me in tears too. So beautiful! What a wonderful woman!

    In my post you asked about the pan...pretty sure it's just a mini-loaf pan. The joy of garage sales...no info! :)

  11. Crying again. Sheesh what a boob I am. But I love these stories you are sharing. And family means everything to me. (There. Tears justified.)


    PS. My mom is a good prayer, too. The best.

  12. ok that had me bawling!!! what precious memories! thanks for sharing them

  13. Darn it, Jen! I'm at work, crying at my computer. This one hit home because of my grandma. She's almost 99, and is still the hub of the family. She is the dearest thing to me, and has always been so understanding - even when I wasn't very understandable. I know its hard for her to be as helpless as she is - like your grandma, she loves to stay busy. I hope she knows how much we all love and treasure her. Thanks for sharing about your grandma - that was really really sweet.

  14. Like everyone else, I could help but cry the whole time reading this. I can just hear her voice in your words. She really was a very exceptional lady. I miss her too!

    My mom, Uncle Dan and I were just talking about her "feasting on babes" last Sunday. I don't think she would be able to even hold Zachary anymore - he's 21 pounds and 28 1/2 inches long! Very much a boy too - wiggly all the time.

  15. This is a great one Jen! Our Grammys are the best! I hope to follow in the steps of mine too. I feel lucky to have her in my house, spreading her special fun!

    Love ya,

  16. Jenny,
    Thank you for helping to jog some fun and fond memories of such fabulous women!! We are so blessed to have come from such great "stock"!

  17. This makes me miss my Nana! I had such a special relationship with her...I'm loving these posts Jen!

  18. I read your blog often and enjoy it. I haven't commented often because 1)it's hard for me to articulate my feelings and 2)I don't want to seem foolish, but I am grateful that you are doing this this week. I am one who hates Mother's Day. Thanks for helping me remember the reason we celebrate that day. It's been hard to gear up to read these each day because I know I will have a hard time reading through tears. What a great tribute to these women who mean so much to me too! Thanks, Jen. Can't wait till tomorrow. Love, Karen

  19. We have so many memories in common - my maternal grandmother LOVED to play Rook. She would make her 9 kids and their kids play around her two dining tables. She just wanted to be near family, having fun. If there was an odd number, she wouldn't play but she'd walk around and check people were fed and having fun.
    I love your posts - they are beautiful and they bring me back my own memories. So wonderful.

    PS: You're very welcome to call Evie "firefly." My first name is Evellyn and I often get called "Evie" by my mommy, too. So fitting!

  20. I loved reading this!
    Stumbled onto your blog from Clover Lane . It's kept me up way too late;)