Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Grandma's Time

Whenever someone asks me, “Where did you grow up?” I cringe.  That’s not an easy answer for me to give.  Sometimes I say “California,” and leave it at that, but it’s not exactly true.  I spread out my growing years all over the world.  I was a preschooler in England.  I was a tween in Italy.  I was a teenager in California.  I became an adult in Colorado.  But I think my biggest spurts of growth, and my favorite months of childhood, happened during the summer trips to visit my family in the Midwest.

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my grandparents when I was small.  The one year we spent Christmas with my family in Kentucky, my grandma gave me a pain-by-number set.  I was nine, and really wanted to be an artist, so when I saw the paint set, I wanted to rip it open and start in on it.  It was a busy Christmas, and there were a lot of people in the house.  I’m sure my grandma had a hundred other things to do that day, but she didn’t do them.  She cleared a space and helped me set the paint pots out in order.  We each painted a picture, mine a little squiggly around the edges, hers a masterpiece in my nine-year-old eyes.  She helped me with the difficult parts, like the eyes.  Then she had the pictures framed and mailed them to me after I went home.  I still have them.  I hung them over my daughter’s crib when she was born.

That was the only real memory I had of my grandma Austin, until I turned thirteen and my parents started sending me to stay with family during our summer break.  I had just moved back to the U.S. from Italy and I didn’t really like the idea of melting in the Kentucky heat, but I was excited to see the grandma and grandpa I barely knew.  So I went, not really sure what to expect.

My grandma and grandpa Austin’s house was set back on a hill, surrounded by trees.  We had to cross over a bridge, and drive around a pond.  In the evenings, my sister and I chased fireflies, something I had never even seen before.  Sometimes we’d sit out on the deck and see who could eat a slice of watermelon fastest.  We fell asleep listening to bullfrogs sing.  We woke to the keening of cicadas.  We swam, we fished, we gave apples to the horses.  We burned to a crisp in the hot summer sun.  It was magical.

It was here that I first started writing.  My stories were usually about dragons and run-away princesses, set deep in forests that bore a striking similarity to the wooded areas around my grandma’s pond.  Most of the characters shared names with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  The plot was a mess and the sentences were sloppy, but hey, I was thirteen.  It was my first serious attempt at writing.  It was also the first time my audience wasn’t a teacher.

My grandma, who worked a full-time job, cooked, cleaned and watched over us kids, still found time to read my stories.  She encouraged me.  She wasn’t the first person to say, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” but she was the first one I believed.  When I wanted to paint, she’d given me a canvas.  Now that I wanted to write, she became my audience.  She always made time for me, and I never felt like a bother to her.  I came back from those trips with a sense of pride in myself.  I came back each summer knowing, more than ever, that I was a writer.

I won’t lie, I was pretty lucky to grow up in Europe.  I saw things most kids that age haven’t even heard about, and those experiences have probably influenced my writing more than I realize.  But it’s the time I spent with my family that taught me the most important lessons.  It was under my grandma’s guidance and encouragement that I became a writer, and for that, I will always be thankful.

Motherhood is a difficult job, and I can’t end this post without thanking not only my grandma, but also my mom, who taught me how to read and then showed me how to love it.  I don’t know how she raised us kids without our grandparents around to help—I know I can’t even manage a weekend.  When I write super women, these are the examples I draw from, and I’m lucky to have them in my life.


  1. Some manly tears trickled down my cheek as I read this post...

  2. Lol Stefan, guys with manly tears are awesome!!

    Trisha, what a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. I agree that women like these are superwomen and make great heroines. They may not be snarky and kick-butt Buffy types, but they are strong, amazing women who work hard and never let down those they love even when they are completely exhausted. I think sometimes people forget that there are different ways to be strong.

    Oh and growing up in Europe does sound pretty amazing. I'm sure you have a lot of fabulous experiences to draw upon in writing.

  3. Love it. Beautifully written tribute.

  4. You've had such an interesting life! I was very touched by this post (much like Stefan, though my tears weren't manly at all). My children are very lucky to have had grandparents like these. Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. I too was lucky to have something of a childhood retreat - in my case, my grandma's house in Alamo, California. She lived right up against the hills, so it was a wonderful transition from the suburbs to a place with deer and quail and tall trees to climb. And there was always homemade bread and fresh canned apricots... and my Grandma Leora, who had a mischievous sense of humor and all the love in the world.

    So thank you for sharing your lovely story, and for making me recall happy memories of my Grandma.

  6. Big elephant tears came out of my eyes. I love you, Patty, and so does Grandpa. You have made my day! I'm the Grandma!!!!


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