Relatives Can Be So Interesting

My Grandmother Robinson and myself, way back when

I always knew I had a delightful paternal grandmother. (Not to give short rift to my mother’s mother, who has her own very different and unique story.) As a typically self-absorbed child, then teenager, I would tell her from time to time what was going on in my life. Yet it never occurred to me to ask what was happening or had happened in hers. It was only in my early adulthood that I recall her telling me a couple of stories, which I wish I had asked for earlier. Imagine how much more I could have learned about her history!
Even though she didn’t live far from us, we didn’t see her often enough. But I do remember from those days that she routinely prepared dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas and our birthdays. The first time I showed up wearing lipstick, she noticed and commented in a flattering way. Since my father was her only child who lived to adulthood, my siblings and I were her only grandchildren.
As a young adult, I heard a few stories about my father’s growing-up years along with learning a little about his younger sister who only lived to the age of ten. She took my then-husband and myself fishing, and I will never forget the sight of this tiny woman, who was usually totally prim and proper, rolling up her pant legs to reel in a fish. In retrospect, I realize I started opening up to her more after her husband died. I guess I thought she was fully occupied with her marriage.
Several years after her death, I came across an autographed program from Arturo Toscanini’s farewell concert at Carnegie Hall, during the Great Depression—a sign of her love for classical music, and her determination to find her way to New York for this event.
For most of my life, I thought of her as a housewife who liked to sing. I knew she would sing, that she had been in the Glee Club during her years at The Ohio State University, but thought of it mostly as a hobby. I had no idea of her passion or her talent, because I never asked.
A recent event opened a whole new set of anecdotes. After preparing a short writeup to accompany a donation of her fur collar to the Worthington Historical Society, I sent a copy to my oldest brother and learned part of what I had missed. My grandmother had seen to it that this brother benefited from piano lessons and—one more thing I hadn’t bothered to learn about anyone outside of myself—she would often take him to those lessons and would warm up for her performances while she was waiting. He recently informed me that he had inherited a music cabinet from her with about 100 pounds of sheet music. Can you imagine? And here I thought of her as this meek, obedient little housewife.
I should add, I had thought of my grandfather as being a bit authoritarian, and it was only after he died that I learned he had been very appreciative of her musical talent. She talked about how on one of her “music days” he used that time to bake her a pie.
About the pie: She told me that none of those pies we had at family dinners were baked by her. She claimed to have baked three pies in her life, the first of which was good, the second mediocre and the third needing to be thrown out. At that point, he said “Don’t worry, I’ll bake the pies.” He never on that he was the one who baked them. Was that to make a macho impression, or was he protecting her image as a perfect housewife and cook? I guess we will never know.

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