My maternal grandmother was a fun, mischievous woman and I have great memories of her. We lived in the same small town for a few years when I was young and I got to spend a lot of time with her. I was thinking about her today and wanted to share a little about who I remember her to be.
Her name was Emma Mildred (Mager) Schoch. I thought the name Emma was beautiful, but she couldn’t stand it. She went by Mildred instead, a name I thought sounded like a “grandma” name. I always thought it might be nice to name a daughter Emma in her honor, but is it honoring to name a child a name that was hated? Hmmm… And now Emma is such a common name that I’m hesitant to do it for that reason. Not that I have any children on the way… (Sigh.)
We lived really far out in the country when I was a kid. It was about as rural as a place can be, with the slight exception that the church was built behind our house. We burned a lot of our trash, but anything that didn’t burn got put in the church dumpster. It wasn’t a fun task for my parents to haul the trash back to the church, so we worked out a deal. Dad taught me to drive the car (I was eleven, but 5’8″ tall) and I drove the trash back to the dumpster. This was a total distance of maybe 1/4 mile each way, on private property, but made me feel like a million bucks. I loved it even though I probably never went over 15 miles an hour.
One day Grandma and I drove to the neighboring town. I told her how Dad had taught me to drive and that I did it all the time, conveniently leaving out the part about only driving back and forth to the dumpster. I begged her to let me drive us back home. To my utter shock, she let me!!! I got up to 55 miles an hour. It was one of the best days of my life. When Mom and Dad found out, they were horrified. Poor Grandma. She never scolded me for it though. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy the adventure.
Since Dad was a pastor, we were in church A L.O.T. I mean, A WHOLE LOT. And we were Charismatic, so the services were no 45-minute walk in the park like you Baptists sometimes get… There were services where we stayed long into the night, sweating and singing and praying. We were there for every single one of them. Not only were there long services, but afterward people needed to talk to Dad. So my mom and sister and I waited and waited and waited.
Grandma felt sorry for us for being little girls in very long services. Much to our delight, she always brought us BIG bags full of candy. I thought I had hit the jackpot when one of those bags came out of her purse. But Mom didn’t like us having all that sugar (we’ll rot our teeth!), so she put a stop to it pretty quickly. Here’s the great thing about Grandma though… She found sugar-free candy and this chocolate substitute called carob and filled bags with that. I have to admit, I really didn’t like the fake stuff, but I don’t think I ever told Grandma. I just smiled and took the bag because I loved it that she thought of us and brought us treats. (By the way, the no sugar thing worked. Neither my sister nor I have ever had a cavity!)
Grandma told me “grown up” things too, then begged me not to tell my parents. One time she told me all about strippers. She’d always thought they were really bad girls. But she’d seen a TV program that explained that many of them were single mothers and college girls. They had to do it to support their children or pay for college. We had a big talk about what makes people do the things they do and how we shouldn’t judge until we understand the whole story. I promised to play dumb if my parents ever mentioned strippers around me. I think I’m released from that promise by now though…
Grandma told me that she’d had beautiful legs as a young woman and my legs reminded her of hers. All I could see when I looked at her legs were varicose veins, but I realize now that she was trying to give me some much-needed confidence and make me feel good about something I felt very bad about. I always thought my long legs were a bad thing because of comments others made about the need to cover them up. Grandma saw my pain and sought to ease it without embarrassing me.
We moved from Ohio to South Carolina when I was thirteen, which I don’t think she ever really appreciated… I became a bratty, fourteen year old who avoided my parents at all costs and didn’t hug them unless it was required of me. I remember the night my mom woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me my precious Grandma had died. Grandma was fairly young – just 69. She died very unexpectedly. Mom came into my room, sat down on the edge of my bed, and told me the news. Without thinking much, my heart went out to her. I knew this had to be the hardest day of her life. Instinctively I said, “Oh Mom…” and wrapped my arms around her. We cried for a minute before I realized that I was too cool to hug my mother or cry in front of her. Then we got up and started getting ready to leave for Ohio.
It’s been almost 20 years since that happened and I still cry thinking of it. My mom was sad for a long time after that. It was hard for her to go to church because people would say things to her about it (out of love and concern) and it would make her cry all over again. I was so sad for her, and sad for myself, but I didn’t know how to comfort her. I didn’t want to mention it and make her cry again. I realize now that I’ve never acknowledged the anniversary of Grandma’s death or said much to Mom about her since then. I’ve been trying to spare her feelings, but unintentionally have probably come across like I don’t care or don’t miss her. Yet I have often wished for her to be here and to see the woman I’ve become. I think she would’ve cheered me on all the way.