Last week, my friend Ann, over at “Muddling Through My Middle Age,” posted a lovely tribute to her grandmother. I enjoyed reading it very much and was reminded so much of my own grandmother, that I was inspired to write a tribute of my own.
My maternal grandmother’s name was Lola. She was born in 1909 in Delmar, Delaware but spent most of her life in Southern New Jersey. Lacking in physical stature, four foot, eleven inches tall and a hundred pounds soaking wet, she more than made up for it with a strong personality. She was fiercely loyal and protective of those she loved and not above quietly voicing her opinion if she felt it necessary. We all called her Mom-mom.
She met my grandfather Cliff through mutual friends. They married in December of 1928, two months short of her twentieth birthday. For a while she worked at a cigar factory in Philadelphia, but when my mother came along in 1930, followed three years later by her brother Bobby, Lola settled down to run her household and care for her family. My grandfather, a very cheerful, easy going fellow, made a very good living as a master plumber. He installed plumbing systems in large buildings and even ocean liners, but he was also a weekend drinker and very free with money, so he could be a bit of a trial.
He certainly tested my grandmother’s patience! According to tales I heard growing up, she was a bit of a spitfire in those days. Occasionally on payday, my grandfather would stop at the pub on his way home. In the wee hours, after buying many rounds of drinks, he would stagger in, with less than half his pay left. Lola would be waiting up. During the ensuing argument, she would emphasize her points by pelting him with anything she could lay her hands on! Either she had bad aim or he was pretty quick even when drunk, because she rarely hit him even though she threw candy dishes, mixing bowls and nick-knacks of any kind. My mother told me that at one time they had no working lamps in the house because she had thrown them all at my grandfather!
Eventually, the fighting and the money worries were put to rest when it was decided that she would pick up my grandfathers pay each week, allowing him money for the pub and keeping the rest. This arrangement seemed to work fine and Mommom, who had grown up with very little, proved very good at managing money. She even had a habit of hiding little stashes around the house, just in case of a rainy day. After she passed away, we cleaned out her house, and found almost $500 taped to the back of dresser drawers, hidden behind wall art or under the carpet corners.
For most of childhood, Mommom and Pa lived in a little house down the street from my parents. My memories of her are of an energetic, task oriented woman in her late sixties, early seventies. At one time, I was told, she always wore skirts or dresses (house dresses at home) but in the seventies, when ladies “pant suits,” became popular she latched on to the style and never turned back! I can’t remember her wearing anything else, except to weddings or formal occasions.
She wore her steel grey hair short with tight curls and every Thursday morning she went to “Estelle’s Beauty Parlor” to have it washed and set. She managed to keep her “do” looking good till the next Thursday by sleeping with her head wrapped in toilet paper each night! I also remember that she had a fondness for large pocketbooks and had a different one for every season as well as a several more just for special occasions.
My grandmother liked to drive whenever we went out. I suspect she liked to be in control. Having had to keep my grandfather in line for most of their marriage, she was comfortable in that role but, being a rather tiny person who, for some reason, always chose to drive large cars, presented some problems. In order to see over the wheel (which, by the way, she always gripped at “ten” and “two”), Mommom needed to sit on a cushion….and to boost the cushion up a little further, she tucked a wooden rolling pin beneath the back edge. Even with this extra height, her chin was just above the top of the steering wheel. Add in the fact that she insisted on driving exactly the speed limit or less, and you have for some fun road trips!
One of her favorite pass times was playing bingo. A little odd for someone who was so money conscious but I think she enjoyed the idea of a windfall; money for nothing. Some nights, she would take me with her to the hall at the Catholic Church and I would watch in awe of her, and her friend Bea as they monitored ten cards each, marking each number with a chip or a ink dotter. They never missed a number and sometimes they even caught one that a neighbor had missed on theirs! Later on, when the casinos came to Alantic City, she and her friends would take bus trips down there and spend the day playing the nickel slot machines. She was very careful to spend only a certain amount but even so she usually came home ahead.
Mostly what I remember when I think of Mom-mom is always feeling safe and loved. She took care of me whenever my parents were out, making me cheese sandwiches and teaching me to play Tiddly Winks with her bingo chips. I helped her with her house cleaning on the weekends and she helped me buy my first car. I always knew she had my back and it makes me sad that my children never got the chance to know her and even though I have a few inches on her, I hope someday to have as “big” an influence on my grandchildren.