8.12.2013. 123 years ago today, my grandmother was born. To celebrate that, I unearthed this piece I put together in 2000. It was a writing exercise that got transformed into a family project. The idea was to develop a character study by asking yourself "how to be" someone else. My question was "how to be Kitty Mom."
I've written a lot about my grandmother and the family tragedies she endured with such strength and style. This exercise was done in a more light-hearted vein reflecting more on the older woman, tempered by life into a person who was both sharp and kind. As I re-read these now, knowing so much more of her history, I'm overpowered with affection.
The contributors were my mother, my sisters Kathleen and Ellen, my cousin Barbara, my dad's sister Mary Ellen, and me.
So, to be Kitty Mom...
Say "musha" or musha ding when frustrated.
Tell Ewald (after long discussion and many beers), "You speak, yet say nothing."
"You're as good as the best and better than the rest." (To a child who is feeling self-conscious)
Tell your children and grandchildren, A word to the wise is sufficient. (Went along with the Look as a child-rearing approach.)
Yes, Kitty Mom left us all with lots of little sayings. My mom used to say so many of them and I find myself doing the same. Have you ever seen the pillow with the saying on it "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, I am my mother after all"? Every time I see it I laugh because we all are following in the same footsteps. I watch Ellen sometimes and I see her give the "look" to Sam when we are at the lake and I chuckle to myself. I know that someday Theresa and Suzie will be doing the same but if you say that to them now they say, "Ill never be like that." Remember this one? Kitty Mom and my mom used to say, "Make your words sweet, You may have to eat them someday." I heard that so many times. [Barbara]
Wear sleeveless plaid housedresses
Cool yourself with a fan in church
Wear a corset
Always wear high heels
Buy great hats (Always put your hat on before going downstairs to the grocery store that you own.)
Own lots of fun costume jewelry
Wear red rouge on your cheeks
Paint your fingernails too (always red, just red)
You know she was a Leo and very vain about she looked and how she dressed. Never wanted to get old. Thats why she dyed her hair for so many years. I too am a "Leo" and I dye my hair, paint my nails, love shopping for clothes. And if I have a few drinks I too like to "sing" (not very well). In a lot of ways I remind myself of her and just chuckle to myself. Yes, she was a wonderful teacher. I hope my girls will take after me in SOME ways, like her and my mother. [Barbara]
Buy anything for a grandchild as long as they can swear yes to the question: "Will it thrill you?" ("If you didnt get what you wanted from your mom -- go ask Kitty Mom -- she'd get it for you." [Barbara])
Whenever your grandkids visit, give them "a little change" before they leave.
Always have the car gassed up when visiting [daughter and son-in-law] Mary and Lester because you know [grandchild] Barbara Ann is going to ask to use it.
Find humor in a lot of things, love to laugh
Buy lots of knickknacks for your whatnot shelves
Sing Danny Boy off key
"Off key?" mom said when she saw this the first time. "Mother sing off key?" Apparently she did by the time I was listening. Barbara said, She loved to sing out at Castlewood on Saturday nights and, yes, the finale was "Danny Boy." Mom added that she used to walk up to the cliff with Ewald and sing the Indian Love Call as loud as she was able. [Susan]
Treat yourself to bon-bons from Mavrakos
Entertain. (She ran a tavern for a while out of their Rowan Ave building. When they moved to south St. Louis, their basement was set up like a bar.)
I remember one time I went down to her house so she and Ewald could teach me how to "play Bridge." Well, they got into a big argument because she said Ewald didnt know what he was talking about... I quit and decided I didnt want to play Bridge because it seemed all you did was argue with your partner... Not much fun. [Barbara]
Sit at the piano in the front room on Rowan Ave and play with the window open ("I think she entertained the customers downstairs" [Barbara])
Love to have everyone out at Castlewood. (hostess with the mostest [Mary Ellen])
Always have your binoculars on the window sill to watch the birds or the neighbors???
Invent entertainments for your grandchildren
When we were little and wanted to swim one time [out at Castlewood], she plugged up the bathroom (it was a step-down) and George and I swam on the bathroom floor. Talk about Maw and Paw Kettle!!! Then when she went to unplug it, she was pulling out the rags she plugged up the drain with and a scorpion bit her on the finger. I will never forget that!! [Barbara]
Play Canasta with Barbara and Mary in the summer at Castlewood.
Going shopping in Wellston.
Use a commercial pressing machin.e
I think this was meant for ironing flat things like sheets, but I can remember her ironing kid clothes in it inserting a sleeve, pressing it, throwing the machine into reverse fast and fascinating. When my mother lived at home, apparently she had in a woman who did ironing but not to my mothers persnickety standards, which is when she started doing her own ironing. [Susan]
She taught herself so much by reading -- from every inch of the newspaper, cutting out all of the good articles to mull over and underline and circle all of the good parts -- to books on diction, how to cope, encyclopedias, poetry. I had to laugh while going through a box of old paperbacks of hers -- I found quite a few "racy" novels. [Ellen]
Make peach cobbler on hot summer days
Preferences & quirks
I remember her sitting on the side of her bed and telling mom to go get everything out of the safe deposit box before she'd go to the hospital for appendicitis, because she was sure she was going to die [Susan]
Tell your grandkids not to call you "grandmawww"; they should say "grandmother" (and insist your children call you "mother" not "mom")
I was the only grandchild who called her Grandma and, yes, sometimes she would say, "Since when did you start calling me Grandma?" My answer was "ever since I could talk." [Barbara]
Say "Barbara Ann" not just Barbara
Manage the money and give Ewald [her husband] an allowance(!)
There are so many things I remember about her and sometimes I scare myself because I do and say things that remind me of my mother and Kitty Mom. I guess they were pretty good teachers because they taught me well. [Barbara]
My sister Kathleen has the last word:
I think of all the people who have influenced my life, Kitty Mom did the most. She fed my curiosity, taught me to be resourceful, nurtured my musical talents, always listened, and loved me unconditionally. We would sit up for hours at night and just talk. After a visit, I would always feel like I was the greatest, most beautiful child in the world. "My darling", she would always call me.
She was the original liberated woman. She has always been an inspiration for me to ..."rise to the occasion... rise above it... and... know your strengths... and overcoming the odds."
I wish at the age of 40, I had the energy I remember her having at the age of about 85. Everyday pruning her roses, baking new treats for Ewald and cleaning... something.
Ellen's right, she was a self-taught woman, reading everything she could get her hands on. She loved all of her grandchildren and always had something to brag about for each one. She would buy me anything, take me anywhere, (or make Ewald do it) or do anything... like bringing me soda, chips and candy during a tornado warning once. I loved being with her not for those reasons though. She spoiled me with love and affection. I could call her up and tell her when things were great and we'd celebrate the moment. I could tell her when I was sad and she would comfort me like no one else... I miss her terribly. [Kathleen]
Feb 2000 (reformats 2005 and 2013)