It's springtime in Texas, and tomorrow is my grandmother's birthday. Ruth Ella Coward Schumacher passed in August, 1996. She grew up in Illinois, roaming the outdoors, as did my mother, as did I. She had a baby brother, Willis, a mom, and a dad. But her dad, although quite tall and full of health, caught that awaful flu in 1919 and died when Grandmother was just five years old. Her mother had loved him deeply, not in a girlish way, but in a quiet swallow of meaning that spans one's life. She was twenty-five, a widow, with a five- and three-year old to take care of. She went to work for the telephone company as an operator.
Grandmother was green and gold floral, a double stitch, clothes on the line, wisteria, hummingbirds, and dimes in a dish. She taught me how to make things using my mind and my hands--to read a pattern, measure, press and sew; to carve ceramics using sandpaper, tiny tools, and brushes for dusting; to make intricate wreaths; and to roll hair in curlers, with some Rave solution for waves that would roll down your back. Her house smelled like eucalyptus leaves and antique wood. The floors creaked underneath the carpeted hallway where our ancestry hung. I would go there every summer to spend three weeks. We filled our time with projects and the mall, and she would send me home with new outfits and new skills. I felt completely capable in her presence. Her spirit wanted to take on any seeable notion. She house painted, hunched over her garden till sweat dripped; she wanted to do things herself, and I did too. I let her show me how. I listened carefully to her. She was happy. She loved me. She didn't worry. She was proud of me. Grandmother always knew what to do. She wasn't daunted by life.