Friday, July 9, 2010

courage under fire

Writing about Gram's garden tools last week has kept that venerable lady in my recent thoughts. As our children's generation procreates later in life than we did, fewer and fewer will grow up knowing their grandparents, great grandparents, and grandparents-in-law. This sad fact calls for more memoirs, and I will try to fill the gap.

Today's title and the tone of my opening paragraph notwithstanding, I want to relate a humorous anecdote about Gram. Steve and I have laughed about this story many times over the years, but kept respectfully straight faces when it happened.

The scene was a four-generation holiday dinner at Steve's parents' home. Gram was in her late eighties but in good health, mentally and physically, largely due to the strong discipline she imposed open herself in her daily life. Alice set a dish on the table and one of the men (Steve or his dad, Homer) started to pick it up, but drew back immediately when he felt how hot it was.

Gram observed: "Women can stand to hold hot things better than men can." Instantly sensing that the men at the table might have been offended, she added: "Of course, men are brave in time of war." I must have been in my late thirties or early forties, but was sorely tempted to giggle. Fortunately the kids, grade-school age, were too young to see any humor in the situation.

Gram's hasty equivocation was the rhetorical equivalent of "shoot first, ask questions later," and it was not the only time I heard her use this technique. Once she was praising a pianist she'd seen on the Lawrence Welk Show and added, "But Steve sits up straighter than any of them."

I sense that as a young woman Gram (Bess) must have tried hard to curb her impulsive tongue. As a girl, she had ridden horseback with her father and three sisters from Denver, Colorado, to Bend, Oregon, yet she was always looking for refinement and self-improvement -- reciting poetry to herself and repeatedly saying the alphabet backwards to keep her voice from growing weak in her years as a widow living alone.

Last night at dinner Steve picked up a hot ear of sweet corn and dropped it unceremoniously onto his plate. I made sure to hold mine for several seconds before setting it down gently, while quoting for the zillioneth time: "Men are brave in time of war."

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License