Fond memories of grandmasMy wife loved her Grandma Schwarz of Lakota, Iowa, more than anything and talks about her all the time, even though Grandma died 35 years ago. Grandma Schwarz came to Iowa from Feuchtwangen, Germany, when she was a young lady and lived the life of a small town hausfrau with great humor, humanity and dignity
My wife loved her Grandma Schwarz of Lakota, Iowa, more than anything and talks about her all the time, even though Grandma died 35 years ago. Grandma Schwarz came to Iowa from Feuchtwangen, Germany, when she was a young lady and lived the life of a small town hausfrau with great humor, humanity and dignity.
That’s why my wife is going to love one of her Christmas presents tomorrow night. It’s “Us: A Collection of True Stories about Women,” by the indefatigable Marie Sheppard Williams (Infinity, $13.95), a Minneapolis welfare worker turned writer. I’ve reviewed all her books and agree with the late Minnesota author Bill Holm when he wrote that Marie Sheppard Williams “is direct, colloquial, truthful and full of the music of ordinary speech….As Walt Whitman might have said: ‘Who touches this book touches a [wo]man.”
“Us” tells the story of Williams’ German immigrant family who settled on Minneapolis’ north side. We meet Williams’ mother, her cousins, her aunts and her uncles and most of all, Grandma, all told in Williams’ ambling style, that would have been called “Senecan” if she’d lived three hundred years ago. Here’s a sample that will bring my wife to tears (good tears) tomorrow night, Christmas Eve:
“My grandmother was a gardener and an herb-grower and in a way, I think you could say a medicine woman, a healer. She dug up roots and picked leaves and made teas and poultices for all sorts of ailments and sometimes her patients got well and sometimes they didn’t — about the same as it is today in medicine, I’d have to say: we all die in the end, don’t we? Goose grease was one of her standbys — she always had jars of it in the icebox for curing coughs and colds (Truly an icebox.) I had goose grease rubbed on my chest often when I was a child, but my mother used Vick’s Vapo-Rub too; she had, you could say, a foot in both camps: The old world and the new.
“The garden — when I knew it — was mostly herbs and flowers. Marigolds grew under the wooden stairs at the back of the house and around the outhouse,big fat marigolds that were my grandmother’s favorites. Sturdy, healthy, thriving, having no nonsense about them — that was marigolds, and they had the color of the sun and the shape of a circle and they grew from the earth by the outhouse and so they were related to many things, earth, sun, magic, and human necessity; as was my grandma. When I think of her, I think first of the sun and the marigolds, and of warmth, and of deep, deep calm, rest.
“And I think of magic.
“I mean, I know it sounds like my Grandma was all practical wisdom, down-to-earth, as they say. And so she was, mostly. But there was a hint, a whisper, of something else there. Mostly, it came out with the healing: she could, for example, lay her hand on your head if you had a headache, and a strange look would come onto her face, like she was listening to something far off, and the headache would be gone, just like that…..
“When I go to heaven — oh, yes, I am such a simple-minded person that when I die I am actually going to heaven, no metaphor about it; why not, the concept is certainly no more bizarre or intellectually insulting than, for example, life, or electricity, or, for God’s sake, nuclear physics — when I get there I am going to look for my Grandma first, no Mama, no Daddy, no child: Grandma….
“Salt tears are stinging my eyes as I write this.
“In heaven my Grandma will hold me and rock me, old woman though I will be, am now, in the big rocking chair that stood by the old oil stove in the living room of the house on Second Street, just as she used to do, and she will know me.”
You gotta love a writer like Marie Sheppard Williams.
@ti:Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554. His “Dave Wood’s Christmas Book” is available at Freeman Drug in River Falls or from the author.