My to-do list for each week seems to grow with each new phase of life. My first round of independence began during my freshman year of college. The days of Mom telling me what to do and when to do it were completely gone, and I found myself choosing my own set of priorities as I figured out that new chapter of my life. As the days have gone by, I have transitioned into a wife, a career woman and now a mother. Throughout the last decade of these transitions, one task has remained consistently on my must-do list: weekly phone calls to my grandmothers.
I am blessed to have two grandmothers still living. They are 89 and 91 years old. Both live on their own and in the same apartment complex in southern Indiana. Their days of working and mothering young children are far behind them, but the more we talk each week, the more I see myself in them. I see the women that they were before gray hairs and retirement centers. I see the woman I will someday become. I hear the legacy of our families and their desires for my future. I realized I needed their stories if I was ever going to figure out my own.
Each week, I hear excited voices on the other end of the phone as I call. They hear my chatty toddler yammering away, and endure the twelve thousand interruptions required to keep my toddler from jumping off the couch or eating the dog’s food. As they chuckle at the creativity of my toddler’s hazardous ways, we share our stories. We tease about my grandparents’ first date and the wedding picture where my grandmother is holding a frying pan above my grandpa’s head. We talk about the tea parties and watching bunnies out the back window. We reminisce about the travels of a military family and the young bride my grandma was when she left her hometown for the first time in her life. I learn about the genealogical studies my grandma has done and the way things were done for my Scottish ancestors.
We share our families’ lives. I hear stories about the years both of my grandmas spent with military husbands overseas, the struggles of raising a family and living with uncertainty for their spouse’s welfare. They encourage me on the lonely days of being a mom and the busy days of our active lives. They tell me about how they survived being far from family and the strength they found through their faith in God.
We share our failures and successes, like the lessons learned in the kitchen (most of mine through smoke alarms blaring), and the recipes passed down through our family line. Tonight, I made my grandma’s Coney sauce recipe. I learned how to make it with her. I still remember standing in my mother’s kitchen tasting with my grandma. She cooks like I do, by sight and (mostly) by taste. Every time I make myself one of grandma’s famous Coney dogs, the memories flood through my mind.
We share stories of our childhood. Stories of a woman who grew up in a large family with two siblings who did not survive past infancy. Stories of growing up in the South, working in the cotton fields after school each day. Stories of a work ethic and family ties that began in childhood and were only strengthened with time. These stories shape my history. They shaped my parents and they shaped my life. They set a course for my life today, and I am so thankful I get to hear each one.
It all starts with a phone call. A weekly appointment that I will never miss. A little time each week to learn more about who I am and where I came from, and to see where I am going. An opportunity to step away from the busyness of life and learn from the generations that went before me. As I hear their wealth of stories and wisdom, I hope to continue our legacy well.