Another Powerful Ancestor

My husband’s grandmother, Jennie, didn’t look like a sweet old woman. Was it the set of her chin? She was kindhearted and I never heard of her being mean but she was a bit (less than 5′ tall) of a family tyrant; quiet, unobtrusive, but iron-willed. And somehow she made that will known.

I always felt Grandma to be loving but can’t remember her giving hugs. She talked to me when we were alone but I never knew her to draw attention or be the center of a conversation when she was present. But, she was the center of many a conversation when she wasn’t there.

I suppose it was because either through respect for Grandma or intimidation by her, the family was fearful of offending or of gaining her disapproval. For instance, my husband‘s mother smoked in the bathroom with the windows open her entire married life as long as Jennie’s visits lasted. She died at 99 years of age.

I remember Grandma’s outrage when my husband’s other grandparents and his aunts and uncle’s obeyed the parish priest and missed our wedding. It was a mixed marriage and in those days a serious matter. Only his immediate family and a devoted aunt and uncle braved the threat of excommunication and attended. Jennie’s judgment was strong.

She was a roving grandma and  spent parts of the year with different sons, traveling by bus throughout the western states. (When it became necessary she got on a plane for the first time in her 90s.) No one was surprised at her bravery. She was a pioneer woman whose husband had died and left her to raise four preteen children on her own. She was a survivor.

Grandma loved her grandchildren and showed her affection by her care. She kept the house and did all the cooking when she was in town. A creative cook, she knew many money saving tricks from the depression era. My husband remembered that if they didn’t eat their dinner one night they would always find it in their soup the next day. They looked forward to her visits because of her home-baked bread. She was popular with their friends who would flock to her door after school, waiting for it to come out of the oven. Hot rolls with butter. Frosted cinnamon rolls. Yum!

Grandma insisted that I learn to make bread if I was to marry her dear grandson. On her next visit she came to our apartment to check if I was doing it right. I wasn’t, by the way – I stirred the yeast with a spoon. She commandeered the cup and said that she always used a fork. She elbowed me aside, ordered me to watch closely, and finished the job herself.

Stories of Jennie are few and far between now. The recipe for her bread is an heirloom we can pass along and still enjoy.



  1. All families have one or two such legends. In my case, it was my great grandfather who was a well known person in our village and whose achievements were drilled into our heads from childhood. Another was my grand father. Among the first Indian Civll Engineers to work for the British government, he was a legend too and he too left his mark in many buildings and bridges in our native state. I do not seem to have taken after my father’s side of the family but, my youngere brother has and in his own way has become a legend too.


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