Keeping it real and Keeping it positive.

Raspberries, Lilacs and Grandma Fishback

on March 23, 2012

In my attempt to be healthier and eat right I bought a container of raspberries. I do love those little red berries, even though they get embedded in-between your teeth and seem to never come out! When I put the first one in my mouth, for some reason my memory flashed back to my Grandma Fishback. For a few days now I keep thinking about her and the tremendous impact she has had on my life.

When I was born we lived in the ‘country’. Hard to believe that this city girl actually grew up in the country, but it’s true! My parents were engaged for five years because my Grandma Fishback ( dad’s mom ) insisted that they have a house built before they marry. Times were tough in the 40’s and so this took a lot of saving and waiting. To make it ‘easier’ for them, Grandma provided a plot of land for this ‘yet-to-be-built’ house. The land was right beside HER house! Finally the house was built. They married and not too long after that I came along.

My Grandma Fishback was my hero in so many ways. She was born at the turn of the century. Her ancestors had immigrated to Canada before it was a country. She married my Grandfather after WW I and they lived on a farm very near where I was born. Life was hard for her. My grandfather was a good man, but had alcohol had taken over his life on many levels and that resulted in a lot of pain for Grandma as she worked on the farm and raised two sons. When my dad was 14 my Grandfather was hit by a drunk driver as he was riding his bicycle along a country road not far from their farm. Grandma used to tell us that she heard sirens and stopped to say a prayer for the people involved, later to find out it was her husband.

She now was left with a farm and two teenage sons. She sold the farm and began her teaching career. My father and uncle both quit school and went to work full time at one of the factories in town to help support ‘Ma’ as they called her. She found some land and built a tiny little house with a root cellar and a pump by the sink to bring in water.

In 1949 when I was born she still lived in that house. She lived there until she died in the mid 70’s. I loved that little house. I can close my eyes today and see every single room just the way it was. I can see the bed in her bedroom that we shared when I would sleep over. I can see all the boxes under the bed of gifts that her students had given her and she would eventually ‘regift’…many to me! I can smell her baking and cooking and flowers picked from her garden sitting on the table. I can remember looking out front and seeing the lilacs blooming. I always remember the lilacs and to this day they are my favorite spring flower.

Grandma could do everything. I was sure of it! She was a teacher by profession and taught in a one room schoolhouse until she retired in the 60’s. She taught all eight grades and at her retirement former students came from near and far to honor her. She was MY first grade teacher. I still have the bell she used to call us in from recess. It is a treasure!

Grandma would take classes at ‘night school’ to learn things. She loved to learn new things. She sewed all the clothes she wore and many that I wore too. She made tooled leather purses and learned to draw and paint. She played the piano and raised chickens, ducks and geese. She alway had a cat! Grandma loved to fish! She would come with our family on vacations to the lake and we would all go fishing. I clearly remember her in her Wellington boots standing on the dock and fishing for hours. Fish and bowling…she loved them both. What a woman!!!

She was never lacking in giving ‘wise counsel’. Things your grandmother tells you seems to stick with you, doesn’t it? Living through the Great Depression shaped her generation and thrifty she was! She would tell me, ” Barbara Jeanne, you have too many clothes. You only need three dresses. One on your body, one in the wash and one in your closet incase you spill something on the one on your body’. To this day I feel her stare when she looks in my ‘overstuffed’ closet! She made me earn things. When I wanted to learn how to sew she taught me, but she made me ‘buy’ the Singer portable sewing machine that she was replacing with a newer model. I valued that lesson to this day…and that sewing machine.

Grandma loved to travel. She would save her money and go on bus trips. Her biggest one was a bus trip across Canada and the US from Ontario to the West Coast. She kept a journal, took lots of pictures on her ‘Brownie’ camera and sketched what she saw. We still have that suitcase full of her memories from that trip. Another treasure for sure.

Grandmother was our greatest cheerleader! She always believed in us..and she told us so. She was so proud of our small accomplishments and you could feel the pride in her voice when she told you. I was the first grandchild to go to college. She was so proud! She would write to me all the time and always was so eager to hear my stories of college life. When I graduated she decided to have her own adventure and ride the Greyhound Bus from London, Ontario to Johnson City, TN. She wanted to come early and just have some time with me by herself before the rest of the family arrived. It was such a thrill for her to be part of the historic event for her family, and the fact I was going to be a teacher like my Grandma made her even more proud! 

Sadly, not long after that she was diagnosed with cancer. It was the worst kind of cancer that left her in horrible pain and not much hope of recovery. She was too ill to come to my wedding in 1974. One of the greatest sadnesses of my life was the fact my husband and my grandmother never met! The night before our wedding my dad arranged with the hospital for us to have a phone conversation with Grandma. Was talked and laughed and I listed to her ‘wise counsel’..but then she asked to speak to Barry. To this day I don’t know what she said but tears ran down his cheeks. Part of me thinks she threatened him within an inch of his life if he ever made me sad…:-).

September 1974 I was speaking at a Women’s Retreat in Atlanta Georgia. We were stationed at Fort Bragg and I was invited to speak at this retreat. The Pastor’s wife of the church in Atlanta had been my Pastor’s wife in Toronto and was like a  second mom to me. Joining me at that retreat was my best friend since 7th grade. Both Doris and Lezlee knew and loved my Grandma Fishback. Right before I was ready to speak Barry called to let us know that Grandma had passed away. That was one of the hardest talks I have ever given. As God would have it I was with two of my closest friends when I got the news and because they both knew Grandma we could cry and share memories together. It helped.

My father insisted that I NOT come home for the funeral. He said Grandmother wanted me to remember her well and healthy and active. Part of me still has some guilt for not being there, but most of me rejoices in the memories I have of my very special Grandmother LIVING!

When I was 7 we moved away from that first house that sat beside my Grandma. We would return often to visit and spend holidays. I could never get the picture out of my memory of backing out of the driveway and Grandma standing on her little porch waving. She would just stand there waving until we were out of sight. No doubt tears on her round cheeks!

Now I’m a Grandma. I’m so glad to have had the example of both of my Grandma’s to follow. I now totally understand that feeling of ‘standing on the porch and waving good bye’. I only hope I can be half the Grandmother to my grandsons that Grandma Fishback was to me.

I miss you Grandma and I hope in Heaven we can smell Lilacs and eat Raspberries together again!

2 responses to “Raspberries, Lilacs and Grandma Fishback

  1. barry says:

    Hon – so very touching and powerful. I love it…and you!


    • Wow, you brought back memories, I haven’t thought of Grama’s place in eons. I loved the summer, her place was a wonderland for a little boy. I got lost in the corn field, when I finally got out, I was a mile down the road! I wish I had more time to get to really know her. Didn’t she pass away on Dad’s 50th B-Day? I still remember her funeral, it was a damp cloudy day, the cemetery service had just ended, when the clouds parted just enough to let the sun shine through, It was a moving scene,


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