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Living With My Grandmother
By Knowing Her, You Understand Me
It’s three in the morning and she’s walking down the street on a mission to get coffee from the corner store for her sick father. Her mother watches her from the stoop, unable to leave her husband and her sleeping babies. She clutches her coin in her little fist. She walks proudly. Knowing the woman she is today, I imagine she’s humming, counting her steps, analyzing what the sidewalk looks like in the early morning light. Though she is eighty now and my grandmother, on that day, she was, Marion Leona, the three year old daughter of Leo and Emma Lescard.
Of all of the stories my grandmother has told me, that one has got to be my favorite. In our modern day society that encourages children to remain young for as long as possible, my grandmother was becoming an adult at three. Her mother had no one else to rely on, but her oldest child. My grandmother had no choice. In a family with ten children, you have to make yourself useful.
Born on November 28, 1928, her childhood America financially resembled the America of today. She learned from an early age that waste meant hunger and having to go without. She slept in a room with the bulk of her sisters in an apartment in Lowell, MA. The story goes that after the mayor found a better place to live, his house was divided up four ways. My grandmother’s family lived in the bottom portion. As I’ve had my own room my entire life, I can’t imagine sharing it with four other people.
My grandmother’s stories (or at least the really exciting ones) revolve around her large family. In one story, she’s reading books with her older siblings, potatoes are frying on the stove, and their feet are elevated on the sides of the oven, getting warmed. As their mother had told them not to, this was a rebellious act. Though they’d get caught each time and reprimanded, they didn’t stop these late night potato fries until they married their spouses and moved out. With kids getting busted for everything under the sun, its funny to think that something as tame as cooking potatoes without consent was once a rebellious act. In another story, a neighborhood bully has hurt her brother, Robert. Being the mother lion that she is, she goes after the guy and he never bothers Bobby again. There are countless stories of Lescard siblings stick up for each other. This is a tradition that was passed on to her grandchildren.
At seventeen, she met my grandfather, Raymond Sherman. Fate stepping in, they both went to the same community dance and, after dancing together, quickly became an item. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I like to think that they saw each other from across the room and everything stopped and they floated together knowing instantly that they had found their soul mate. Though, like every couple, they fought, when I look at pictures of them, I know they were in love and what they had together was very special. They got married on August 15, 1949. Due to finances, it was a very, very small wedding. The following July, they became parents to my mom, Nancy. My Aunt Linda would be born the same month six years later.
In 1953, my grandmother became a nurse. Having taken care of her family and neighbors her whole life, it was natural that she would enter into this field. She was one of the older students in nursing school. While her buddies went to hang out and socialize after class, Nurse Sherman had to cook dinner for her family. She didn’t enter nursing to make friends, but to fulfill a life long dream. Still, she became the popular nurse, her young classmates turning to her for advice and understanding. Thanks to her welcoming face and warm personality, any where we go with her, we are guaranteed to meet someone who wants to talk.
Tragedy struck the family when my grandfather died in November of 1959. Already struggling financially, life became even harder. She was now a single mother to a nine and three year old. The bills were now all hers to pay. At the time, society frowned upon single mothers. She was encouraged to find another husband. Were she not such a strong, capable woman, this bump in the road could’ve been a disaster. She kept things together though, raising two equally capable women with no man in sight.
Switching job settings from a hospital to a nursing home, my grandmother continued to make friends. Among them was a handsome cook named John Walsh. Playing matchmaker, she asked her eldest daughter, Nancy, to come to visit her at work. She wanted her to meet John. It was my mom’s twenty-fifth birthday and she had just met her future husband. A date would follow and a wedding would eventually happen on August 26, 1976. She would become a grandmother for the first time when my brother, Joel, was born in 1979. She became a grandmother again in 1980 when my brother, Steven, was born. Her final grandchild, Me, came around in 1984.
I spent each afternoon of the first four years of my life with my grandmother. Each week, we’d travel to downtown Lowell where we’d shop, eat at Brigham’s and go to one of her appointments. Though she had a car, she rarely used it. She wanted to teach me about public transportation early so that I wouldn’t be scared to use it or feel above using it. She’d take me on the bus. She’d call her cab driver friend who would tell me stories as he drove. Though she would buy me everything I needed, I was not spoiled. She taught me the value of money and the difference between really needing something and only thinking you need it.
At three, she enrolled me in a dance class. Though I’m a shy person, thanks to her, I feel comfortable on stage. She got me interested in the performing arts, seeing talent in what others might only see as energy. Were it not for her, I may have never formed an interest in the theatre. Thanks to her, I was a better-rounded than many of my friends.
What specifically have I learned from my grandmother? To point out specific instances of influence would take more time than you have to read. Because I saw her make sacrifices for her family, I was inspired to do the same, choosing family over friends even when it was the unpopular thing to do. Because I saw her give of her time and self to strangers, I try to see the best in everyone and do random acts of kindness daily. Because she was strong enough to be seen as a strong woman in a time when strong women were seen in a bad light, I am proud to be a strong woman. Though my relationship with her is not as calm as it once was, it is understandable. She gave me the knowledge and determination to fight for what I believe in. The fact that we clash only proves how much of a good job she did.
With each passing day, there is another ache, pain or health issue added to my grandmother’s list. Though it is something I rarely admit to, I understand that her days with me are numbered. One day, perhaps sooner than I am prepared to imagine, she will be spoken of in the past tense. My future children will ask me about her and my eyes will become moist. I’ll tell them about her in the way that she tells me about her grandmother. They’ll wonder, like I do of hers, if my stories are entirely truthful. They’ll wish, like I do of hers, that they had gotten the chance to meet her. They’ll look at her picture, like I look at her grandmother‘s, and try to find themselves in her. She’ll become the subject of legend, the point of reference of all great things. Her death, like her grandmother’s, will only be physical. Her life is so much a part of mine that it’ll not be lost when she breathes her last.