Monday, August 21, 2017

Cucumbers are not just for salads anymore.

I never met either of my maternal grandparents. My mom's father died about a year after my parents married, which was several years before my twin and I were born. My mom's mother passed away when my mom was fifteen and in her final year of high school.  Though it's not the same as actually having met them, I've heard all the stories my mom and her siblings tell about their parents. Perhaps I've heard even more than I would have heard by way of ancient family lore than I would have heard if if my Grandma and Grandpa were still around.  

They're my only grandparents who allowed anyone to call them "Grandma" and "Grandpa." My dad's parents claim French and insist on being called "Grandmere" and "Grandpere." They probably think the terms sound classier than do the English equivalents. The joke is on them.

My maternal grandmother traveled to the United States as a fourteen-year-old to live with an aunt and uncle in Colorado. She received nurses' training at the University of Colorado College of Nursing and was a registered nurse. Following graduation, she worked as a civilian nurse in a clinic on the premises of the United States Air Force Academy. She met my grandfather when she gave him a tetanus shot after he stepped on a nail that poked through his shoe. He thought she was cute, and he was charmed by her Irish accent. His parents were immigrants from Ireland. My grandparents married almost immediately following my grandpa's graduation from the academy. Ten years later, they had seven children, including two sets of twins. 

My Grandma was a bit of a bohemian, which would have been perfectly acceptable in many circles. Among spouses of military officers, it wasn't all that acceptable. She dealt with not fitting in particularly well by attending only those events she absolutely couldn't avoid.  She survived living in base housing because she was a generous and likable person who was always willing to watch someone else's children for a few hours or who would cook double portions of a meal she planned to serve her own family if one of the neighboring wives was under the weather. Even in a military setting, others are willing to overlook a bit of nonconformity when it behooves them to do so. On two occasions when my grandfather was deployed for lengthy stints, she took her brood back to Ireland, the land of her birth and where her parents still lived, to live among relatives until my grandfather's deployments ended. The family was in Ireland when my mom learned to talk, and traces of an Irish lilt can still be heard in her speech.

Once my grandma's youngest children were old enough not to need immediate supervision every moment that they weren't in school, she sometimes served as a chaperone for her children's various activities. She especially liked accompanying the band and choir groups when they traveled to competitions.  She was a much sought-after chaperone because of her training as a nurse and because she got along with children and adolescents especially well.  The other parents, however, didn't always know what to make of my grandmother's rather frank speech.  

Once, on a school bus en route to a band competition several hours away from their town,  my grandmother shocked the other parents by telling them of how she demonstrated to all of her children, once they were at an appropriate age to know, how to properly put on condoms by using condoms and cucumbers to demonstrate. Some parents were stunned, while others were amused. One mother wanted to know how a person as devout a Catholic as my grandmother was could sanction condom use. My grandmother responded that she didn't necessarily sanction it, but that she sanctioned teen pregnancy even less and felt that keeping kids in the dark was an ineffective deterrent. Another parent wanted to know why my grandmother thought her daughters needed to know how condoms were properly applied. My grandmother answered that if girls were going to be sexually active, they needed to know enough to insist that their partners wear condoms and they needed to know whether or not the condoms were being used properly.

It's probably not so unusual for today's parents to speak so frankly to their children about sexuality, but my grandmother's children came of age in the late 60's and 70's. (My grandma died when her youngest children, my Uncle Kevin and my mom, were 15 in 1981, but she managed to give them the condom demonstration before she moved on.) Some of the other parents apparently thought my grandma was practically encouraging her children into sexual activity.  I don't know for certain whether or not any of them were promiscuous, but I do know that none of them either had children out of wedlock or married because a baby was on the way, and neither have any of their children done so. Three of us are still unmarried, so the verdict is not yet entirely in, but, for the most part, it can be said that my grandmother's frank approach to prevention of pregnancy  was successful. The same cannot be said for my other grandparents' offspring and for their offspring. 

I've been told before that I am too direct in my communication.  I don't know if such a specific personality attribute can be genetically transmitted or if I acquired the quality of bluntness from my mother who picked it up from her mother. Either way, I come by it quite naturally.


  1. Your grandma sounds like a cool lady. I'm told the grandmother I didn't know was cranky.

    1. The one I do know is cranky, but she's a peach compared to her husband.