Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gram & the Squirrel Gene

I'm thinking about my grandmother today--it's her birthday this week. She would have been 93. She passed away in 1979, when I was just 4, and I've always wished I'd had the chance to know her better.

(Grandma & Grandpa laughing, Hudson County Park, Bayonne)

She was a woman after my own heart:

She loved reading and travel; had a natural talent for languages (and spoke, read and wrote fluent Lithuanian, Polish, Italian, Russian & Slovak); was a fantastic cook and baker, and was an expert seamstress, having spent many years working in garment factories. She had an artistic side as well, and embroidered, crocheted, and dabbled in countless arts and crafts.

And she loved animals. She always bought nuts for the squirrels, seeds for the birds, and food for the many stray cats in her neighborhood. In winter, she'd leave a garage window ajar and make bedding out of old clothes so the cats had a warm place to sleep. She even shoveled them their own path when it snowed.

According to my mom, "The squirrels would haunt her. When she was hanging clothes on the clothesline upstairs, they would shimmy up the drainpipe just to greet her. The cats also followed her up the block and waited for her under parked cars."

And, "She always prayed to St. Francis for the animals."

My mother continues, "She once told me a story about winning a contest in school for writing an essay and she had a choice [of prizes]--money or a turtle. She chose the turtle."

My mother shares these qualities and has spoiled many a squirrel in her day.

And then there's me, with my mealworms and office littered with knitting needles, piles of fabric, and embroidery floss.

It's very comforting to know that my interests, talents and predispositions come from somewhere. When I was growing up, we had virtually no contact with my father or his relatives, and no extended family to speak of on my mother's side. I suppose for that reason, silly as it sounds, this kind of connection takes on great meaning for me. It's an anchor, of sorts. A way to feel part of something larger and worthwhile in a way I never did as a kid. Traits like red hair run through some families; in ours, I guess, it's the squirrel gene.

No comments: