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Archive for May 9th, 2011

 My Grandmother’s Rosary

Sue’s Mother’s Day Tribute

“Excuse me,” the gentleman said as he got my attention. “I’m sure you did not mean to sell this.” In his hand, he was holding my grandmother’s crystal blue rosary, with a dull and tarnished silver cross with her name, Katherine Heffron, engraved on the back of it. My heart leapt in my chest. I was so grateful for his kindness in assuming that this prayer tool had much more than a monetary value attached to it. He returned it to me and I keep it on my home prayer table now, connecting me in faith to my elderly grandmother who passed many years ago.

             We were in moving mode once again, leaving our country home for a condominium a little closer to Tom’s work. We were getting the final items arranged for the sale, sipping our wake-up coffee to warm us on the brisk Michigan  spring morning when this early-bird garage shopper arrived. He didn’t spend much time and quickly shopped the entire space, snatching up goods that were on his “hunt list”. Somehow, my grandmother’s rosary with her name inscribed on the crucifix, got into his catch. By returning it to me in the pre-sale hour, he saved it from the later rush traffic of the day and confusion which allowed me to keep this rosary in my family heritage.

             The rosary belonged to my Irish grandmother who prayed her beads faithfully each day. Most of my memories of this grandma stem from her visits to us in the 1950s in our home in Sycamore, Illinois when I was in grade school. Grandma lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She lived with her daughter’s family, my father’s only sister and I never knew my grandfather. He lived and died working the hard life of a lumberjack, cutting and hauling wood out of the northern Wisconsin and Minnesota forest lands.

             My own father, at a young age, took over the provision role for his mother and sister. Early photos I have seen of those times in the late 1920s and early 1930s looked tough and gritty. I do not know the specifics, but I came to understand that my dad sacrificed in many personal ways to ensure that his mother and sister had their needs met. Most of that information came from my mother. I don’t remember dad talking about it very much.

             What I do remember is that my father and his mother had a loving but very testy relationship. Volatile and explosive would be more accurate. Grandma was a pretty cryptic personality when she wasn’t influenced by a little whiskey swig, which she was known to steal on the fly on occasion.

             She had her long, white-grey hair usually pulled back in a bun at the neck and she wore soft nylon or cotton shirt waist dresses with a belt around her full torso. She always seemed immaculately clean to me and smelled of soft, fragrant body powders and cream. My mother bathed and medicated her legs faithfully after which they were bandaged with elastic wrappings and stockings. Grandma always wore what I called “Eleanor Roosevelt” shoes, the same black heeled lace up oxfords the Sisters of Mercy wore at school.

             My dad and his mother may have agreed on their religion but in almost any other discussion topic, they were starkly at odds – each with a stubborn Irishness that would  not let disagreement of opinion rest. So many of their discussions turned into broiler heated arguments, my dad’s voice raised to thunder level with my grandmother, shaking her head, making clucking sounds with her false teeth, and walking off in disgust and amazement at what she deemed as her son’s lack of healthy respect for her.    

              Needless to say, this was very disturbing to my brothers and me who could not admonish their father and who hated to see their grandmother upset. The fall-out continued later, too, as the pattern was that grandma would then be gruff or mean to my mother, who through no fault of her own, took the heat that was meant for grandma’s son.

             My suspicion is that the place where grandma settled all this was with her beads. She would sit in her rocking chair, sometimes completing her own debating points in the absence of her son to no one in particular in the room. Then, within a short period of time, a soft quietness descended upon her and she would reach into her dress or apron pocket and draw out her beads. I often watched her and was grateful for the calm settling over her and the house as she sat alone and began her prayers.

              I would sit in the room near her, perhaps reading a book or completing some homework. I could see and feel the tension and the upset in her give way, for this short period of time, to be replaced by the rhythm of the beads slipping through her fingers and the repetitive words of the prayers coming quietly from her lips.

             Grandma shared my bedroom with me when she came for visits. One of my favorite times with grandma was when we were alone in my bedroom at night, just before  going to sleep. I would ask her about times when she was a girl like me and she talked softly and sweetly to me as she shared things I cannot remember today. It was a twilight time together for us and I got to know a grandma different from my daytime grandma that I loved and cared about deeply. We even laughed together. I think she liked that. My father might come to the door and admonish us, “You two, go to sleep”.

             We would quiet down, and maybe whisper one more secret between us before turning over and settling into our twin bed covers and pillows. Then, before drifting off to sleep, I would once again hear the slipping of the beads and her whispering lips praying her nighttime rosary. Mary, Mother of God, called upon once again for all of our sakes.

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