What grandparents do

Dinnertime at Granny's! And you wont believe how delicious it will be. Granny in her dining room, sometime around 1973.

Dinnertime at Granny’s! And you wont believe how delicious it will be.
Granny in her dining room, sometime around 1973.

“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do.  Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”Alex Haley

I’ve written about my mother’s wonderful mother.  I didn’t mention my other grandmother, or either grandfather, but suffice it to say that my siblings and I hit the lottery jackpot when it came to grandparents.  The great thing about the grandparent lottery is that it has way more winners than losers!

My grandmother was a fascinating person to me.  Because her father and her husband were both much older than typical for women of her age, she had the distinction of being the daughter of a Civil War veteran, and the widow of a Spanish American War veteran.  According to family lore, her great-great aunt was Eliza McCardle Johnson, America’s first lady following Mary Todd Lincoln.  But Granny was interesting to us long before we were old enough to understand any of that.

When it came to having fun, Granny gave us more attention than any other adult I can remember.  Unlike our busy parents, she had time to play Scrabble, Monopoly and other games with us – and taught us to play well and by the rules, never (as far as we could tell) letting us win just to appease us.  She was a real ace at Scrabble because of her expert-level crossword puzzle skills.  She knew more two-letter words than anyone I’ve ever known.

She was an extraordinary seamstress, but unlike my mother, an equally skilled seamstress who made all the clothes for my sister and me, Granny made fabulous outfits for our Barbie dolls.  Each year at Christmas, my sister and me, along with our cousins Judy and Kay, could expect to get new Barbie wardrobes, with exquisitely trimmed evening gowns, square dancing dresses (with matching shirts for Ken), chic street-length dresses and fun, casual separates.  The cheaply made store-bought Barbie clothes were obviously inferior despite their plastic accessories, and our couture Barbie wardrobes furnished many happy hours of dress-up play for our friends as well as for us.   When we got too old for Barbies, my sister and I filled an entire suitcase with our Barbies’ wardrobes!

Granny’s house was enchanting.  It was the same home she had been born in, before the turn of the century, and my Daddy was also born in that home.  It had been remodeled and was well kept over the years, full of interesting historic objects and yet-untold stories.  The kitchen had an ancient walk-in pantry and an antique cabinet with a built in-flour sifter.  That kitchen was the source of the only cooking that, in my mind, could possibly rival my mother’s.  My little brother learned to head straight for the kitchen as soon as we arrived at Granny’s, looking for the M&M cookies that he knew he would always find there (a special treat we only got at Granny’s house).

And speaking of untold stories, Granny never seemed to run out of them, though we had to coax her into telling them.  She had met and married our grandfather during his years as an actor and director in a traveling theater troupe, and she spent the early years of their marriage in that same company, touring, singing and dancing.  Once in awhile, if we kept after her long enough, she would pull out her old photographs of her show business days, and they were spellbinding. It’s likely that Granny’s old photographs were influential in my own love of photography.

Though she lived into her 90’s, Granny was sharp and lucid to the very end, and even left us a final gift of a letter written to each one of us, leaving them with my Aunt Norma to be mailed after Granny died.  In her letter to me, she urged me to enjoy my children and play with them often.  She left us a good example of how to do that, one I hope I was able to follow.

Undoubtedly, our grandparents have influenced us in ways too numerous to count or know.  What memories do you have of your grandparents?  Share some of your own stories of how you, too, hit the jackpot in the “grandparent lottery.”  Remembering the love of our grandparents is a great way to defeat despair!

Happy birthday to my sister Carla, who shares so many of my happy memories of both grandmothers!

One year ago today

How we remember


  1. raynard

    Julia, Memories of my grandmother. She was born in NC on Feb 14 1900. She died just before her 85th birthday while I was stationed in Germany the second time. I had sent her a birthday card from there and it just arrived at her house and she didnt get a chance to see it.She came from the south in 1944. She was a live in maid for a Jewish Family.When she knew her Journey of life was coming to a close, she summoned for me. There she would”fill in the blanks about her life. My uncle and mom were her only children. Her and my mom use to call each other everyday and I remember how heartbroken my mom was when she passed away. Before “the internet, Oprah, Dr Phil , talk shows people didnt talk much. A child knew their place and was expected”not to be up in a grownup’s face involved in grownup conversation.. I inherited 13 grandchildren but have not”mastered ” the grandfather thing and most of them are like my adult daughters, “doing their own thing”..Time for my “( already had a cup of Joe ) Oatmeal then clean some fresh snow off my van so I can go to work. Be blessed.

    • Raynard, thanks for sharing the memories of your grandmother! I am so glad you were able to visit with her before she died. I think the grandparent thing comes much more naturally when they are babies and little children, so perhaps you will get a good shot at it with your great-grandchildren. Having said that, I think there are some of us who are still very much “in touch with our inner child” and for us, being a grandparent is the ultimate fun excuse to be a kid again. We are great fans of oatmeal for breakfast! Matt’s doctor told me that was the perfect thing for him to be eating each morning. Luckily we all really like it. Have you ever used oatmeal in a cake? Michael (from UR) mentioned you in a comment, be sure to see his cake question! BTW we got fresh snow last night too, and for some reason when I saw it this morning I was AMAZED – I keep thinking, “isn’t there an end to this at some point?” 🙂

  2. Ann

    What wonderful memories, thank you for sharing them! I’m particularly envious of the handmade Barbie clothes!!
    My sister and I would gather ginkgo leaves at my grandparents’ house and then my grandmother would help us make them into dried flowers. She let us ‘help” in her prize rose garden too.

    • Ann, that sounds like as much fun as Barbie clothes! Ginkgo trees always seem very exotic to me for some reason; I’ve taken the herb ginkgo biloba in years past, and I do think it helps with focus and mental clarity…hmmmm, maybe I should start back on that. 🙂 I didn’t realize ginkgo could be used for dried flowers. I bet you really loved that rose garden. We had a few rose bushes when I was a child, and they were really special, such gorgeous deep-red blooms. On Mother’s day my mother and sister and I would always pick one to wear to church. We were told that you wore a red rose if your mother was still living, a white one if she had passed on.

  3. Ann

    Happy birthday to Carla😄

    • Thank you, Ann!

    • Thank you so much, Ann!

  4. Sheila

    I would like to wish Carla a “Happy Birthday”! You must have such fond memories of growing up together and sharing your fun hobbies. I’ve always liked the photo that you shared last year of you reading together. My visits with grandparents were such simple times, often for a delicious meal or just sitting on a porch talking. It never seemed busy or that anything else was more important than ME at the moment, while we visited. Now we’ve become those grandparents! 🙂

    • Thanks for the birthday wishes, Sheila! Yes, it’s funny to think that we are now the grandparents. How can we be in their shoes when we are so much younger than they were! 🙂 Seriously, I can remember when I was a child, 50 sounded like the boundary between “old” and “REALLY old” – how perspectives change! I’ve read a lot about how grandparents of this generation are often parenting their grandchildren and/or working at jobs until much older than traditional retirement age. While I can see that these changes may be necessary and in some cases, a blessing, I do sort of regret the idea that today’s children may not have that wonderful leisurely time with grandparents that we enjoyed. I guess that’s why I’m so determined to keep my goof-off personality as I get older! 😀

    • Thanks, Sheila!!!

  5. Nancy


    • Thank you Nancy!

    • Thank you my friend!!!! Think of you so often.

  6. Michael

    My maternal grandmother- Diola- was also a cross word puzzlemaster. Every Sunday evening we would gather at her table for pot roast with potatoes. She made ketchup-mayonnaise salad dressing, used dark Karo syrup on pancakes- which I still love. People don’t get that- the karo thing. She also made great cakes, my favorite being date nut, a recipe I have never been able to duplicate. Perhaps Raynard can help, although he is dieting so I hate to impose. She also made Divinity fudge at Xmas, which I sorely miss. Growing up during the depression she knew how to be frugal.

    • Michael, aren’t those crossword puzzle whizzes amazing? My grandmother seemed to know about so many things that she learned from working crosswords. I can totally get the Karo thing. I love anything sweetened with corn syrup, although lately it gets very bad press. When I was a child, my favorite meal was roast, potatoes and carrots. I never had date nut cake, but a friend of my mother’s made some date balls one year and they were so delicious. I can’t remember the last time I saw any divinity, although it used to be fairly common. But I never saw any with fudge, I just remember the fluffy white variety. The fudge sounds wonderful. I think those of us lucky enough to have parents and grandparents who remember the depression have benefited in so many ways. There seems to be a “can-do” mentality that is the opposite of whiny entitlement. When people couldn’t just go out and buy new things, it’s like they developed an ingenuity and creativity that seems sadly lacking today. I think that sort of mental challenge and engagement is probably far more fulfilling than just keeping our minds passively entertained all the time.

  7. What wonderful memories! I’m so glad to have you and the rest of our family to share them with. We are indeed blessed.

    • Happy Birthday! And “thanks for the memories” 🙂 as Bob Hope would say.

  8. I can remember my granddad playing cards with me and my brothers. Good times!

    • I was never very good at cards, but I loved playing card games. Granny used to play Rook with us and I’d love to start playing again! Thanks for visiting here, and for your comment!

      • You’re welcome. Good to hear you like to play Rock! My granddad was one of the first people to say he liked my guitar playing. Now I’m a guitar teacher!

        • Hee-hee, you got me on that one. I had to go back and see whether I had misspelled “Rook.” Although I like rock, too. But I can only play it on the stereo. 🙂

          • Cool, somehow rock feels more Rock with a capital letter! And I really am a guitar teacher, which means I’m used to the subject being brought up. You know, I don’t think we have Rook in the UK, took me a minute to figure out it must be a card game. 🙂

            • Yes, I didn’t realize until I looked it up just now that Rook is apparently a distinctly American game, devised as an alternative for religious groups with objections to gambling and fortune telling. I find that quite interesting since I mostly played it with church friends, although not from the groups mentioned in the article linked. It’s a fun game, much like Spades or other trick-taking games that involve trumps. Thanks for pointing out that Rook is not an international game. That led me to find out more about it. I learn so much from these comments!

              It would truly be interesting (hilarious) to the point of unbelievable if my Granny had taught me how to play rock! 🙂 But you are in the right country for guitars. It seems to me that all the best guitar players came from the UK. I am a huge fan of Peter Frampton. I’ve heard him live a couple of times in the past decade and he’s still amazing.

              • As they say, you learn something everyday!

                Listening to Baby I Love Your Way as I write, it certainly is a classic guitar song! Yes we do have Jimmy Page, David Gilmour and Keith Richards (to name a few).

                It’s cool that you’ve been a Peter Frampton concert, music is always best live!

                • Yes, and Frampton still has (I think) the best-selling live album of all time. Clearly, he belongs on a stage rather than in a studio. And he doesn’t rely on gimmicks or showmanship to be fabulous, just amazing playing. His 2-minute solo at the end of “Do you feel like we do?” is my favorite guitar music of all time.

                  • Cool and thanks for the link. Seeing music live is like going to the game instead of watching it at home – worth doing! If you’re interested in guitar music, please stop by http://www.dansandman.co.uk/. Lot’s of guitar stuff on there!

                    • Dan, that’s a very nice website! Very well done. I enjoyed the audio player and the video lesson. It was simple enough that even I could understand it! 🙂 I think this site will be a great asset to you in your career. I wish I had been able to have a video introduction to my piano teachers when I was young. All teachers are definitely NOT equal and I think students will be less intimidated after seeing your website. Thanks for sharing it here!

                    • Awesome! Thanks Julia, glad you enjoyed the music and understand the video lessons! In the world of guitar teaching, simple explanations and clear language go a long way. Reading lots of books helps!

                    • Keep up the good work, and soon we will have a whole new generation of guitarists to enjoy! 🙂

                    • Will do! Thanks 🙂

  9. Carlyle


    Thank you for your tribute to”Nellie B.”

    • You’re welcome, thanks for being born into such an interesting family!

  10. That was such a nice post to read Julia. You sure were fortunate to know her. I love scrabble too. I’ve never downloaded an app, we only play on a board. Someone’s daughter told me once that my house at the lake was like going to grandma’s. Some young women would be offended but I wasn’t, I just said, “oh ya, a bit of a hodgepodge but everything has a story”. So when you mentioned that about your grandmother, I smiled and thought, “I like her already” 😀
    My paternal Grandma passed when I was just a baby, I’ve been told I look like her and that makes me happy. My Grandpa lived years longer on the farm and we loved it out there. Dogs, Tractor Rides and old sheds to explore. I’ve posted often about it. Grandpa John lived with us for a long while too, so we got very close. He was the first person in my life to pass away. I took it really hard. My Maternal Grandma was German and while we spent time there in the summer, she didn’t speak much english so it was hard to have a close relationship. But we loved a lot of the same things. Animals and Gardening. I do remember she had a beautiful garden. Lots of veggies and Hollyhocks and a lilac hedge going all around a tiny house. The house was white shiny stucco with bits of coloured glass, can you imagine? Looked so sparkly in the sun. I don’t know why they don’t do that anymore. I was quasi adopted by girlfriends families growing up and think of their grandparents as mine. I suppose, I could have made a better effort to get to learn German, but I was too young at the time to appreciate them as people with stories to share and lessons to learn from. We’d just run around outside like most kids did back then. Seen but not heard, I think that was our order for the day.

    • We finally splurged and got one of those deluxe Scrabble boards with ridges where the tiles don’t move around. Granny would have loved it. I too would take it as a huge compliment if someone told me my home was like grandma’s. My grandmothers’ homes were like nests feathered with love.

      I don’t remember which one, but one of your relative’s photos on your blog — it may have been your Grandma– made me say WOW, what a resemblance! You definitely look very much like the one in the old b&w photo I’m thinking of. Hollyhocks and lilacs, how perfect! Jeff’s mother sent me some hollyhock seeds from her plants over 20 years ago while we lived on the central coast – I planted them and they grew literally taller than our house! Amazing. I haven’t had any since then but I loved them. The colored glass in stucco is something I’ve seen only on very small areas, but it is beautiful and seems a really good way to recycle. We too were expected to play mostly outside when we were kids – not a problem since there was lots to do and plenty of other kids to play games with, but I can remember longing to go indoors sometimes where it was cool (or warm) and there were lots of books. 🙂 It’s amazing how different childhood is today than it was in our youth, and I imagine our grandparents felt the same about us!

  11. Happy Birthday wishes to your sister, Carla! 🙂
    What an interesting family!…My father was orphanded at age 10 and lost contact with all his sibbings, when place in an orphanage. I only knew my mother’s parents and family.

    • Merry, Thanks for your birthday wishes for Carla! I am so sorry to hear your father was cut off from his family that way. Have you ever thought of trying to find any of them? Things were done differently in those days but there still might be a way to look them up. Just recently I’ve read some heartwarming stories about people who have found a brother or sister who was institutionalized for mental disabilities many decades ago; often the sibling was so young as to barely remember them, and the person living in an institution had no family to visit for most of his or her life. Now that many of these people are (thank goodness) moving into community based group homes, there is more possibility for them to re-connect with family they never knew they had. Although your father’s situation is very different, I’m sure he and his brothers and sisters must have wondered about each other over the years. Hopefully your mother’s family became his family when they married.

      • Yes, thank you very much Merry!

  12. jholley1954

    Julia – this was beautifully written and brought back many wonderful memories of Granny, her home and all those wonderful Barbie clothes! I am in total agreement that we were awesomely blessed with loving, caring and “interactive” Grandparents. Thanks for sharing that snapshot of the past.
    Love and prayers to you and yours.
    Cousin Judy ☺

    • Thanks so much, Judy – hope you and your loved ones are well. I just recently came across a great photo of you and Kay that I simply must digitize and send to you – I may have already done it, but I couldn’t remember. 🙂 I’m so happy to have you share these precious memories of Granny!

  13. Sheila

    Julia, I came back tonight to read a bit more….. Feels so good to read the many comments. ROOK?? I really can’t believe you know about that card game, much less play it! I grew up on that game. It is still played often and even as a tournament by certain family members. Do you think Rook is a southern card game? Loved Boomdee’s comments, too. 🙂 Hope Jeff is doing well. We had a beautiful sunny day here! Until tomorrow, Sheila

    • Sheila, we keep getting closer and closer to being twins separated at birth. Maybe Rook is a southern game – I can’t remember whether anyone played it in Ohio or California. I love it, though. Something about having that black bird on the cards gives it real character! I’m so glad you are here! 🙂

  14. Michael

    The divinity was also white and fluffy and the fudge was a separate entity made with Nestles condensed milk- I believe. And she also had carrots so I think you would have enjoyed her Sunday dinners. Grandpa also grew corn and had kind of a “Victory” garden in the back, so she also served corn and sometimes beets- not my favorite. His corn was probably the best I have ever encountered and its variety “Candy Corn” lived up to its title. She also made date bars which might be similar to date balls. She always had a huge plate of sweets at Xmas which I headed directly for after arrival Xmas morning. Buckwheat pancakes were also a specialty and I never seem to get those anymore. Grandpa Carter’s family came west from West Virginia after the Civil War.

    • I don’t like beets either, but they are said to be very nutritious. Buckwheat pancakes! My mother used to make those and until you mentioned them, I had completely forgotten about them. But I can still remember the taste. Delicious and much more substantial than regular ones. Maybe we should try making some. I used to make a lot of sweet at Christmas, and would give little goody baskets to teachers, school staff, physical, speech and occupational therapists, etc. But now that we don’t have any of these folks in our lives regularly, I can’t afford to do all that baking – guess who would end up eating all of it! 🙂 Maybe when Grady gets older I’ll go back to it.

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