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Friday, 22 January 2010

Grandma Ida

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

I’ve often said that I loved my grandmother more than my own mother. I wrote lovingly about her in my first memoir and dedicated it to her, thanking her for giving me the love of stories.

Ida Alice Miller Burgess came to live with us when she was widowed for the third and last time. I was seven then, and seventeen when her death came the day after my high school graduation.

She was younger when she came to live with us than I am now, seventy-seven, so it’s hard to reconcile my memories of an old woman, who mostly spent her last ten years sitting, with the active life I live: photography, writing classes, driving— involved in all kinds of volunteer and performance activities.

She did have terrible vascular problems with her legs reportedly stemming from a long-ago kick from a cow, and not much help from the medical community, which she probably never sought out anyway. I remember her proudly proclaiming that she’d never gone to a doctor in her life. She helped Mother with sewing, mending, cooking and dishwashing - all from a chair or stool.

One day, long ago, after wondering for many years from whom my second daughter got her strikingly good looks (although I think all of my three kids are beautiful, the other two look like their father, so there was never any question where their good looks came from), I had a moment of realization, that she looked like my grandmother, who used to shyly, but proudly, tell me that she had been a “belle,” as a young woman.

She told me stories of growing up dirt poor in southern Indiana and of having to leave school after the fifth grade to help out with the financial support of her large family. She went to the “big city” – Louisville, Kentucky – to work for a rich, Jewish family where she missed the down home kinds of food she’d grown up with.

She told me stories of her three marriages; the first two to healthy-seeming men who died of typhoid fever and tuberculosis – one within three months and the other within three years after marriage.

She told me about my grandfather, a widower with seven children, who came back to southern Indiana at the urging of a friend (who was also Ida’s second husband’s cousin) to marry my grandmother who “needed” a husband and would be a fine mother for his children, two of them not yet grown.

She did, indeed, become their much-loved mother-figure for the rest of their lives. She told me stories about my mother, her only surviving child, and about her little Violet, born prematurely after a horse-and-buggy accident when a snake spooked the horse. Her decision to protect her stepsons, by jumping with them to safety, cost her dearly.

She taught me to sew, crochet and embroider. She was gentle and soft-spoken. I never heard her raise her voice; the closest she came to sounding cross was when she defended me against my sister, four years older than me, when June teased and tormented me. My memories of her as protector and defender made it all the more puzzling to hear my sister announce many years ago, that she had been our grandmother’s favorite.

I said “I always thought I was her favorite.”

We looked at each other, stunned, and June said, “Wasn’t she a wonderful grandma to make us each feel that we were the favorite!”

There might have been some justification for her favoring my sister: there might have been a particular bond because of June being a redhead. My mother, Grandma’s darling daughter, had splendid red hair and her own hair had been red before the typhoid fever took not only her husband and unborn child, but her red hair – it grew back in brown and remained so until turning gray in her old age.

Even though her formal schooling was limited, she was wise in so many ways. Her life stories surely started me on the literary path I eventually followed. As a grandmother and great-grandmother, my finest hours have been those in which I’ve tried to pattern myself after her.

I’ve fallen far short in the arena of selflessness, much better with the unconditional love part and best of all, in the storytelling department – not that any of my grandchildren necessarily want to hear my stories!

There is a new crop of babies: great-granddaughters – six months, two years, two-and-a-half years, eight years, and a great-grandson on the way. I have another chance.

Ida Burnstine

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How beautiful! I never got to know any of my grandparents and so have tried to be the best grandma/great-grandma I can be. I'm loving every minute of it and hope the children are as well.I began following your blog about a month ago and had no idea you were older than me (61). You are an inspiration!

I had a grandmother like Ida and I loved her dearly. The bond we had surpassed any other that I have ever experienced. She was very influential in my life and was more of a mother to me than my birth mother.

You were fortunate to have a grandmother like Ida just as I was fortunate to have my grandmother, Carrie.

What a beautiful story. My grandparents never made it to this country so I never got to know them. You are fortunate to have such wonderful memories.

Lyn - A terrific story about a wonderful person. It is interesting to look back and see how those close to us helped to shape our personalities and behavioral patterns.

I am certain that your grandchildren love to hear your stories! - Sandy

Thank you all for taking the time to comment. I love blogging for the immediate feedback and responses.

What a wonderful story! I especially like the discovery you and your sister made regarding which granddaughter was her favorite! Oh, and picture is a real bonus! Tea with Grandma. It warms my heart.

My grandma was also an Ida. And I share many of your feelings of being closer to her than with my mother. Grandma always saw the good in everyone with never a critical word. I wish I could have learned that lesson. Thank you for your beautiful story and beautiful picture. I only have grandchildren but look forward to the day when I can rhapsodize about great grandchildren.

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