Monday, February 2, 2009


Alice Ora Schooley was my gramma. When she was little her mother was sickly, so in addition to maintaining good grades in school, she cared for several brothers and sisters and the needs of her bedridden mother. She grew up quickly with little time for herself or anything that wasn’t practical. Her life was devoted to cooking, cleaning, and household duties. And as a result of that kind of youth, she grew up staunch and sober—disciplined, strict, and to-the-point. At no time did she look at any of the issues of life with anything but common sense and correctness. And she loved me with all her heart.
She taught me the value of "practice what you preach," and "do unto others," and "never put off til tomorrow what you can do today." But she also taught me balance in all things. A time to work and a time to play.
It's peculiar how I think of Gramma. It's true, she was the height of dignity in all things. She walked straight, sat correctly, spoke properly, and behaved even more properly. Indeed, the first word that comes to mind when I think of my gramma is "dignity."
But then there were the times we'd hear her quietly humming to "Song, Sung Blue" as it played on the kitchen radio and we'd watch as she ironed in time to the rhythm of the song. The time we entertained relatives and she took her apron off and danced a waltz with my grampa in the kitchen.
Then there were the times when she'd sit down on the floor and teach us how to create castles with our raw wood blocks and how to add paper dolls to bring the castles to life. She'd wipe her hands on her apron and join us at the table in order to show us how to add shading when we used our crayons and coloring book. Of course, in order to show us, she herself had to color a picture. She'd show us how to cut and glue small boxes and make furniture for our dolls, and how to use egg white and cotton scraps to make a new hinge for a well-loved book. Clothespins and a cardboard box became a fort in her hands, or maybe a 10 car garage for all our tin and rubber cars and trucks.
One Christmas she called my sister and I into the front room where the Christmas tree stood, lit and decorated. Quietly she said,"Let me show you something pretty, girls." To her knees she went, tucked her skirt and apron around her legs, and lay down face up with her head under the tree's edge. "Come down like me." she said. We lay down, face up, with our heads under the edge of the tree. There the three of us lay, like the spokes of a wagon wheel. A fairyland of lacy, dark branches spread in all directions. To our amazement, the lights danced brighter under there. We saw our reflections in the old, intricate glass ornaments. We were so close to the tiny plaster creche nestled in the cotton at the tree trunk, I waited, breathless, to hear the little figures speak. From under there, that tree was magical.
That was how my gramma played. I think it was always her intention to teach us one lesson: dignity, propriety and balance in all things. But she taught us another lesson too. One we'd do well to teach our own tiny ones. The lesson of imagination. That boxes and clothespins can be castles, pots and pans can be an orchestra and mud in a dish can be chocolate pie. That a whole fairyland lies just under the edge of a lit Christmas tree. Leave the mesmerizing, mind-numbing video games on the shelf. Turn off the TV and computer. They'll get educated fast enough in this world. Give the kids the humble bits and peices of household living and you watch...they'll become the archetects of their OWN galaxies.