Thursday, November 26, 2009

Memories Wrapped in Green Foil

When my grandmother, Madeline would come to visit us at Thanksgiving she always brought her favorite, Andes Candies.  These small rectangular chocolates would magically appear in a small bowl in our living room and would become the symbol of her presence in our lives, the first hard evidence that Christmas was around the corner.

Many evenings as kids we would sit on the rug by the coffee table unwrapping the green foil wrappers listening to grandma’s stories. I remember the time my grandmother shared with us how she met and came to marry our grandfather, Jack. This was the only story where I saw her younger self shine through her tired eyes and so I would ask her to repeat it often. 

When my grandparents first met Maddy, at thirty two, was still living at home and the main care giver over her very ill and widowed mother. And Jack at the time was engaged to be married and to be married in just a few weeks. So as you can imagine the questions were flying and the innocent how could you’s were starting to take over when grandma would hush us all and tell us that as soon as they both met they knew it would be forever and that was the end of it. 

Since my grandma rarely shared much else of her personal life I thought these crumbs were all that I would have of her after she died but recently I found her scrapbook. The pages of this hard bound book, about the size of a hymnal, are mainly filled with old newspaper clippings dating from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s as well as a vast number of poems, church bulletins and pressed flowers. A few of the clippings tell of national events but most have to do with her family, friends, the church and the social scene at the time. It is like peering through a keyhole into what her life was like growing up on the Hudson River and in and around northern New Jersey. Especially the early days of prohibition and with no television when the newspaper was the only source of information and entertainment. As I started to skim over these pieces of her life’s puzzle it became apparent that I never really understood how hard it must have been for Maddy, losing her mother soon after at the age of 47, and for the two of them to be married. Then to lose her husband too soon and later one of her two daughters. 

But there are articles to also show the joys of her life. There are stories of dancing until the wee hours in the jazz clubs of New York City. The engagements, births and obituaries of those that she held most dear. And the poems, these must have helped to get her through the rough times. 

These faded papers are the pieces I am so thankful to have of her.  I can open this book and try to hear her telling me the stories. The stories that I can now share with my daughter, Madeline, so that she can get to know a bit more about the woman she is named after and why I only buy these candies in the green foil wrappers once a year, at Thanksgiving, in memory of my grandma Madeline.


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