Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scene from a Summer Porch

I was nine when my grandma died. I didn't know her very well.

We lived in different states. This is part of the reason she's not recalled as a grandma of cuddles and bedtime stories.

She and grandpa came every summer to spend a month with us in the country.
Being part of our family for several weeks each year, and the annual trip to see them, were our only times together. We weren't together at Christmas or Easter or birthdays.
Grandma was busy summers at our place. She helped mom with things around the house. I preferred to tag after my older boys. They did fun stuff outside. I wanted to be with them and not inside.
Mom and Grandma were companions for each other in the daily tasks. Grandpa was generally fishing when dad was at work. My grandparents were helpful easy company. But as a grandchild I seldom entered their world.
There's little I remember of my grandmother. My picture of her is formed from what others tell. The one vivid memory is a reprimand received from her. It was said sharply or that's how I interpreted her tone of voice.
It caught me off guard. It happened like this. My grandparents were in chairs on the porch. They sat side by side on that side of the house in the cool of the evening.
Grandpa was content to enjoy the quiet that settled wherever we kids were not. Grandma, more accustomed to having her hands occupied, kept the fly swatter handy. Flies could be pesky and most vexing as the season moved toward late summer.
I hurried past them that evening. I was either coming in or going out the door, trying to do so without letting in flies as we'd been instructed. I noticed that grandma had killed a number of flies.
“It looks like World War III” I said of the flies that lay where swatted. This was the cold war era of the 1960s. We and Russia were watching each other closely. Tensions were high. Kids don't miss much. We knew the buzz words, the worries and the threats.
It was intended as a commendation of grandma's accurate aim. It did look like a battlefield to me but it wasn't of real lives sacrificed that my comment pertained.
"Don’t say that,” grandma reproved me. “Don’t ever say that.”
I went away as if verbally swatted. I smarted from the sharpness of her retort. I didn't feel the harmless remark merited a rebuke.
Later I must have taken my hurt feelings to mom. She told me that grandma hated the word war. She lived through the first world war as an American caught in Europe by circumstances which kept her and her family there the duration of those hostilities. The experience had a lasting effect which I for the first time had come upon.
I believe this is where I started to understand that what we say to another is important. No matter how much we believe our words are without malice or injurious intent we don't know how they can register on someone else.
Watch what you say. Think before you say it. I learned that from grandma's response that summer evening. She died before the next summer's visit. I’ve never forgotten that moment on the porch with her.
Her reaction to my comment startled me but it taught me. Words you use even in joking can provoke pain in someone else.
Slow down and think before you speak, while not hilarious as a philosophy, may make us more attuned and aware. And overall that's a very good thing.
Ro Giencke - 2011

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