Today is my Granny’s birthday, although she’s no longer “on this earthly plane” for me to celebrate with her. However, I presume they have wireless internet access in Heaven. My maternal grandparents were very important people to me growing up. They were unconditionally loving (although Granny could be strict), and they made any kind of work they were doing seem like fun.
My Granny – Amy – was born in a small mining town in Shasta County, Northern California in 1903. She used to tell me, “I was born near the Afterthought Mine, in Ingot”. She was the middle child of three and her parents ran a teamster stop, the Flintlock Inn. This was where the stagecoach drivers (the “teamsters” because they drove the teams of horses) would stop overnight on their way between the Sacramento Valley in California and the towns in Oregon on the other side of the mountains. (You can see more photos of this time and place here.)
Here is a snapshot of Amy at 14 years of age:
Not long after this photo was taken, Amy’s world was turned upside down because her mother, my great-granny May, divorced and moved herself and the three children to Sacramento. I think the disgrace of divorce affected Amy hugely because she was always concerned to do the right thing socially. However, the move brought my grandfather into her life. She married Ethan Papineau in July 1921, a few weeks after her 18th birthday:
My grandparents had a very loving marriage, and being with them gave us a great sense of security and love as well. As I’ve said, they had a good sense of fun:
My Granny suffered from various ailments during her life. When she was 28, she actually died on the operating table, but was revived. She remembered hearing my Grampa’s voice pleading with her to come back and help him raise the children. When I knew her, I was aware that she couldn’t eat certain things and that she had to have a rest-time every day (among other things she suffered from fibromyalgia) – but these things never seemed to stop her being an energetic and productive person. Nonetheless, I used to I worry terribly about my grandparents’ deaths. I used to ask Granny, “What will I do when you die?” To her enormous credit, she never once put off this anguished question. She would give me the same answer every single time: “You won’t need to be sad for me, because I’ll be in a beautiful place and I won’t have any more pain. So you can know that I’m happy, and you can be happy for me.” As I grew older I no longer needed to ask her my fearful question, because I already knew what the answer would be.
Here are my grandparents when I was 16, in front of our house in Portland:
One of Granny’s many sayings was “don’t trouble trouble ’til trouble troubles you”. I think we heard this from her so often because she was one of the world’s great worriers. When I left to live and study in France in my late teens, Granny was very concerned about me being overseas. She later told me that she’d lit a candle every night that I was gone (the better part of two years the first time) and had prayed for my safety. Who is to say that her prayers didn’t protect me?
All throughout my childhood, Granny typed a letter to our family every week. After I left home, I received many letters from her (which I’m glad to say I answered). I still have a few of her letters, and I very, very much wish that I had more of them. They were usually full of family news, health reports, and tallies of all the canning, preserving, baking, sewing and knitting she’d done that week. But the fundamental message of her letters was always her love for me and all of our family. I’ve written here about the wonderful surprise I had when, years after her death, I received another message of love from her.
I was 23 the last time I saw her. I didn’t realise how close to the end she was, but she must have known, because she wept when we said goodbye. I still miss her and Grampa – keenly at times – but I feel sure that their spirits are near me and that their love still surrounds me. Happy Birthday, Granny!