You might remember that my Grandma McCandless passed away at that age of 89 in April.
I always knew that my grandmother was the hardest worker there ever was and the woman could make a dollar stretch further than anyone else I've ever even heard of. However, now that her estate is being settled, I'm just now finally grasping the magnitude of just how hard she worked her entire life.
She didn't just work hard--she did so much more. It's difficult to imagine the sacrifices she made, even in her final years. She had enough assets to be considered a multi-millionaire, but I recently found out that the stove on her back porch wasn't there just because someone hadn't gotten around to hauling it off for her. It was there because it was her oven. I'll explain: the stove in the kitchen worked, except for the oven, so rather than go out and spend money on a new stove, she kept an even older stove on the backporch of her old farmhouse so when she wanted to bake, she'd go outside and put whatever it was she was cooking in the oven. She had more than enough money for a new stove but she didn't buy one.
After finding this out, I felt like the most spoiled brat in the universe. I think I make a sacrifice because my smartphone is two years old or my computer is five years old. Thinking of my grandma, I don't know what the meaning of sacrifice is.
Even more amazing is that my grandpa and her started with nothing in their early 40's. I guess they were so poor when my dad was born that he almost died from malnourishment. They struggled for a long time before finally starting to make a home for themselves and their family, and completely on their own they turned nothing into a fairly sizable estate. It gives me a lot of hope. I sit here, throwing a pity-party for myself because I'm in my mid-thirties and I feel like all that I've done--earning a B.A. Cum Laude, going to law school, working my butt off, has all been for nothing. But then I think of my grandparents and they struggled and made many more sacrifices than I will ever even know, and yet they still made a good life for themselves.
Some of the things my grandma did exhaust me just thinking about them. Even after things started improving for them financially, my grandma never changed her penny-pinching ways. She had a veggie garden every year and canned what they needed for the entire winter off of it. She slaughtered chickens on her own, ringing their necks two at a time, then butchering them and making food from every part. When the church didn't have a pianist, she took it upon herself to teach herself to play the piano. She was an accomplished painter as well (I will get some pictures soon and post them). She sewed so many quilts that we lost count of how many there must have been--some long ago were used up but I am lucky enough to have two mint-condition ones packed away. She also knitted afghans and house slippers. She picked sandplums and made jelly, made homemade pickles that I hear were to-die for, and could fry a piece of meat unrecognizable (you didn't know what you were eating, but it was always good). She could have retired many years ago with more than enough money to live on for the rest of her days, but she continued building up the farm and working hard long after my grandfather passed on.
It wasn't just what she did that made her so amazing, either. Many things that she said would make you take a step back and go "huh." Some things were downright funny, too. One time my dad, uncle, grandma and I were eating at the local Mexican restaurant and she ordered a tostada. The waiter asked if she wanted beans or rice with it. Her response was, "How should I know?!" That poor waiter--the look on his face. He didn't know what to do but she had the rest of us in stitches. Another time we were out with my sister when she had Invisi-lines, which you have to remove to be able to eat. While my sister was taking out the Invisi-lines and putting them in their case, my grandma asked her, "Are you putting in your eat'n teeth?"
The last time I had dinner with my grandmother, we went to Applebees with my uncle, my cousin, and his family, and I sat next to Grandma. She ordered the fried shrimp and I asked her if she ate the tails, since that's what Dad does. She said she didn't, and she said she didn't know why Dad did that. At the end of her meal she turned to me, pointed at the shrimp tails, and asked, "Do you want to take these home to your dad?" She also mentioned on the drive to the restaurant the story of one of the Chilean miners who had both his wife and mistress waiting for him to surface. She just thought that was the funniest thing she ever heard. She told me, "If I were him I'd just stay down there!" I didn't know that would be the last dinner I'd get to have with my grandma, but I remember pretty much every minute of it--I hang onto it and that truly lovely time we got to spend together that one last time.
I know I can never be the woman my grandmother was, but she has definitely left a lasting legacy with everyone she knew. I feel very lucky to get to be able to hear all these stories that are surfacing now that she is gone and being able to put together the pieces of a truly remarkable life. My grandmother worked up until the day she went into the hospital, even though she didn't have to. Although she's finally at rest, I think in her own way she is still working hard--inspiring those who knew her. Her story tells me that my own isn't over yet.