Gramma – Helen B. Gren
During my early childhood my sister Susan and I spent at least 3 nights each week with our grandmother, Helen Madeline Brown Gren. My mother was not your typical mother in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she worked. Her working was necessary for our family to survive and plus I think she liked it most of the time. The way she and my father avoided paying for childcare was for my father to work days and my my mother to work nights. Our grandmother was our babysitter when they had other things they wanted to do and that was often.
Tuesday nights my dad met with his buddies and worked away on his dragster. We went to Gramma’s. Friday they had their bowling league. Saturday they both worked during the day and at night they partied. Sunday they recovered. We were picked up from Gramma’s when they got up, sometimes it was early, sometimes it was late.
Saturday was the best day at her house. The first thing she asked us when we woke up was what we wanted for breakfast. Some Saturdays we would lay on the couch watching cartoons while she delivered stacks of toast covered with margarine. I loved margarine for some reason, we only ate butter at our house. The toast was made from Hollywood bread, a thinly sliced bread with sesame seeds on the top. Often the toast would be accompanied by her home canned pears or peaches. I liked dipping my toast in the fruit syrup.
Other Saturday’s, Susan and I would go to the Wainwright bakery around the corner and buy a loaf of bread dough. Then Gramma would fry scones and we would douse them in margarine and jam. We would often buy the bakery’s delicious cinnamon knots. Another breakfast we loved was toast with soft boiled eggs, I dipped my toast in the egg.
After eating and watching cartoons for most of the morning we would get ready to go on Gramma’s errands. She worked as a secretary at Rose Park Elementary school during the week so Saturday was errand day. Her errands usually involved grocery shopping, fabric shopping and sometimes a stop at a variety store (think mini-Walmart). Susan and I were good listeners and obedient children and didn’t cause many problems. I do remember getting extremely bored in fabric stores and pushing the bolts of fabric apart so I could sit between them, my legs were so tired. Gramma seemed to take such a long time to decide on fabric. I remember one very long fabric shopping trip when an exasperated Susan exclaimed, “Do we have to go in another ‘terial store!”
After errands were done we would go back to her house and unload her purchases and have an early dinner. Then it was time to pick up the “aunts.” The aunts were Gramma’s sister Arvilla and her aunt Hilma. Neither of them drove and so we would pick Hilma up when she finished work at Auerbach’s department store and then we’d get Arvilla at home. The next couple of hours were a repeat of the morning errands minus the fabric shopping. Gramma didn’t like to shop much when she took the aunts, she was just the driver. Susan and I knew that if we behaved on this trip Gramma or Arvilla would buy us a new Little Golden Book or sometimes we would get some other treat. We were always good. We would drop off the aunts and their packages, they lived together in the house my grandmother grew up in. In the summer one of our favorite treats was a drive to the A & W drive in for a baby root beer or a lemon slush. As an adult I was shocked at how small the baby root beers really were and how I was perfectly content I was with it. I think they were free and Gramma’s root beer was a nickel.
Gramma would often hum songs when we drove home in the car at night. Songs like the Old Rugged Cross, The Red River Valley and most often I Love You Truly. She seemed sad when she hummed. If it wasn’t too late when we got home we would go out on the front porch and watch the Saturday night life go past while she watered the lawn with her hose. If we were lucky her fireman brother Byron, we called him Boogan, and his son-in-law Tommy would go by on their way to or from a fire. They always made sure to sound the siren whenever they went past Gramma’s house. We loved it!
When we were very young we would both sleep in the full bed with Gramma, but as we got bigger she kicked one of us out and made us sleep on the couch. We took turns until I was finally to too tall to sleep on the couch and then Susan had to all the time. I hated sleeping on the couch. In the winter, I could hear the mouse traps snapping and worried that one would crawl on me. In the summer, Gramma left the front door open with the screen door latched, I was worried that some one would come in and get me.
Saturday with Gramma was my favorite day of the week! I am so grateful we got to be with her instead of a babysitter.