I want to become an old lady. After all, the alternative is an early death. My mother didn’t make it to old lady-hood. Cancer took her away at age 73. However, my Grandma Sternweis lived to age 90. Maybe I’ve inherited her genes. A girl can dream.
Grandma got married in 1912 when she was 19. She signed on as a farmer’s wife back when horsepower came from horses and food and fiber were homegrown and homemade. She had eight kids over the next 20 years and farmed alongside Grandpa until the mid 1950s, when they retired and moved to town. Then he died.
But just as she embraced every other stage of her life — young wife, farm wife, mother, grandmother — she embraced widowhood. She went back to work — as a cook in my Catholic grade school. Everybody at school knew Grandma Sternweis. She also became quite the church lady. The parish priest even gave her a key to the church so she could unlock the place when she arrived early for daily Mass.
To me, Grandma was always old. She turned 69 the year I was born. She always wore dresses, whether her white cook’s uniform, a simple house dress, or something more spiffy for church or a special occasion. Often she’d accessorize with an apron for housework or cooking, or a light sweater to ward off a chill. She liked a bottle of beer now and then, but she didn’t mind a bottle of wine as a Christmas or birthday gift. She was a law-abiding driver of a little green Maverick, and said a stop sign meant stop — not slack up.
Although I have special memories of time with my Grandma, there is so much I don’t know about her. She died when I was 21, an inconsiderate age at which I was too self-absorbed to have asked her enough questions about her life. But I can tell you this: The Grandma I remember was determined and feisty. Her knees would grind every time she got up from her chair, but get up she did. She knew that life was worth living despite any hardships she encountered. She had an inner strength that did not fade even when her memory did.
So yes, I want to become an old lady like my Grandma. Her female fortitude is my heritage.
** In memory of Mary E. Klein Sternweis, February 19, 1893 – July 21, 1983 **