Friday, February 27, 2009

My Grandma Maggie

I almost named my daughter McLean. That was my grandma's middle name, and I thought seriously of naming our daughter after her great-grandmother. But I knew it would get shortened to Mac, and I didn't think I wanted to saddle her with that.

Grandma was born in Beith, Scotland, in 1893, and immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was fifteen years old. She remembered whole winters in the Old Country when they had very little to eat but potatoes. Hearty stock, but certainly not well-to-do in a financial sense by any means. She married Grandpa when she was just sixteen years old (he was twenty-five), and they raised seven children, a boy born first and then six girls. I remember being shocked when my mom told me Grandma had had so many miscarriages that she didn't actually remember how many. Those poor gals of that day and age sure didn't have much in the way of birth control to work with, did they?

I think Grandma was an excellent example of making do with what she had. Grandpa kept a huge vegetable garden, and Grandma canned and preserved everything. She cooked anything my grandpa brought home whether it be fur, fowl, or most of the time, fish. When they were raising their family, what he brought home for the table constituted a large part of their diet. Since he was such a fisherman, there was nearly always live bait in her refrigerator, sometimes not as contained as she would have liked it to be.

My mom worked outside the home, and Grandma took care of me and my brother during the day. She came to our house each week day, cooked, cleaned and cared for us. After that she went home and did her own housework, got a meal for herself and Grandpa, then a couple nights a week, got "gussied up" (a favorite term of hers) to go out for the evening. Most often these evenings were spent with other lady friends at the local bingo hall. What fun they had for the price of a couple of dollars. I know because she took me with her many nights, and the socialization involved a lot of chatter and much laughing.

She and Grandpa had a solid but teasing/bickering relationship. He referred to her as "The Old Battle Axe," and she constantly complained about him spending too much time with his "girlfriends" in the neighborhood. Grandpa retired from his physical labor job early because of health problems but was constantly on the go, if not working around their house and yard, then off somewhere doing good deeds for anyone who needed help. Often the women Grandma jokingly referred to as his "girlfriends" were widows, single mothers, or those whose husbands were too lazy to do maintenance around their house or yard.

I can vividly remember sitting in our old doctor's waiting room (I was probably only six or seven) with my mom and Grandma after Grandpa had been brought in there to be checked over after he had fallen out of a neighbor's plum tree he was pruning. I can still see Grandma sitting there turning the broken parts of his glasses over and over in her hands while muttering words about the stupidity of the old coot, and why couldn't he stay home rather than running all over town (he'd only been next door) risking life and limb falling out of a tree and landing on his head.

Grandma believed you should never go out in public without your spurs on (by this she meant make-up and hair done and in nice clothes) 'cause you never knew when you might need them. She was a petite, little woman and being short, she liked to wear high heels (she had really nice legs!), and she loved keeping polish on her pretty fingernails. She had beautiful snow white hair from an early age, and it always looked nice although I doubt she ever saw the inside of a beauty parlor.

When Grandpa died, Grandma found she didn't like living alone. Each of her children, to the last one, wanted her to come live with them. Grandma decided she would just float around for a while, a month here, a couple of months there, but always ended up spending the longest times at the house with the most or smallest children as she adored wee ones, and she wanted to be kept busy and feel helpful.

She died one day shy of exactly two years after Grandpa did. That was in 1965 when she was 72 years old. Cause of death was listed as leukemia, but I've often wondered if that was true. Not that it wouldn't be possible, but no one else in our large family has ever had any form of cancer (for which we can be very, very thankful, needless to say). Could be she missed Grandpa more than anyone realized.

I have a strong feeling that if I had been blessed with more children, there would have been a boy named McLean or a girl named Maggie. With hindsight, I can now see that by giving a descendant an ancestor's name, it's not only a way of honoring that person but possibly even carrying on their spirit.


  1. (Beautiful new header-photo!)

    Muckle thanks for gien us a wee keek at the life an times o yer Grannie! Yer Maggie wis aye a star in the croon o grannie-dom, an minds me on ma Grannie Anna an her mither, Augusta--whaem I ne'er met masel, but I've taen her fiddle as ma ain. Ane o these days, I'll lairn tae play the blessit thing!

    Gin (If) ye e'er care tae keek yir lugs (turn your ears) at some guid music frae the Auld Sod, ye can gae tae an play the tunes & sangs richt there on yir computer. Ma favourite programs are Archie Fisher's "Traveling Folk" an some o the Gaelic programs frae their Gaelic division, "BBC Alba." I'm keekin ma lugs tae ane o their programs richt noo!

  2. MaineCelt - I will definitely follow up on your suggestion for Scottish tunes and songs. Thanks for steering me to the site.

    New blog header photo is by my daughter, the soon-to-be-rich and famous photographer who will support her parents in their dotage.

    P.S. I love it when you talk Scotch! ;o)

  3. "But I knew it would get shortened to Mac, and I didn't think I wanted to saddle her with that."

    Ummm . . . hellooooo?! So you thought naming a baby girl WESLIE wouldn't "saddle her" with anything?! Geesh . . . ! (Especially when she grew up to look like a BOY! "Why is HE wearing that pin?" the clerk asked. 'That pin' reading 'Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman'.) I tell ya . . . .

  4. Chicken Mama - Oh, you are SUCH a pain in the butt! It would take a whole blog entry to explain your comment to people!

    Signed, Your loving mama