"We should all have one person who knows how to bless us...; Grandmother was that person to me."
– Phyllis Theroux
Jennie Shaw, who I called "Granny Shaw," lived in Brandon, as did several of Dad's siblings.
Most of his other siblings lived northwest of Brandon in the Rossburn area.
After we moved to Crystal City, we made the occasional trip to Rossburn, maybe once every two or three years, but we made the trip to Brandon every few months, and I became very comfortable with Granny Shaw, Aunt Margaret, and Uncle Albert.
In a sense, because Granny Shaw turned 80 when I six, in many ways she was more like a great-grandmother. I'd never realized that more clearly than when I was looking for quotations about grandmothers. None of them really applied to her. That was partly because of her age, but also because by the time I came into the family she already had more than 30 other grandchildren, and a good assortment of great-grandchildren.
I’ve mentioned before that Granny Shaw had bought a house on 12th street in Brandon after Grandpa Shaw's death, and that not only my dad and his sister Jean had lived there, but also their sister Margaret and her husband Albert.
Aunt Jean and my dad left after they were married, but Aunt Margaret and Uncle Albert continued to live with Granny Shaw, and they may have owned part of the house for all I know.
Granny Shaw had the front room (with front and side windows) as a sort of bed/sitting room. In her room, she had a single bed, a bureau, a small table with a chair that she could use to write letters or eat at if she wanted to be alone, a rocking chair, a night table next to the bed, and some pictures on the walls.
There are two things I remember most vividly about Granny Shaw's room. One was watching her brush her long hair, which she did every night. I think that's where I first heard about brushing your hair 100 times. Hers was still quite black even when she was in her eighties. She never wore it long. Instead, she put it up in a sort of roll at the back. I think she put it in a net when she slept.
If you look at the few pictures I have of her in earlier years, her hair always looked pretty well the same.
The other thing I remember about her room was her letting me play with the little plastic "Bread of Life" container that held small different-coloured cardboard pieces with a Bible verse on each one. She kept it on the lower shelf of the night table next to her bed, and she likely read one each day. I spent hours taking out the cards, reading the verses, and carefully organizing them.
This isn't hers, but the picture is very close to what I remember.
What was Granny Shaw like as a person?
If I had to define her appearance, I'd say she always "dressed for success." In other words, she looked business-like, and a little intimidating. Elegant, maybe? Self-possessed. A little 'lady of the house?' Not quite what you might expect from a typical farmer's wife.
She always wore dresses, or possibly a skirt and blouse. When I think about it, I really only remember black dresses. I'm guessing she might have had some coloured ones, maybe even some with patterns, which were called "house" dresses in those days. It's entirely possible she had a good black dress for Sundays or special occasions, which is when we were usually there. She's wearing a black or at least dark dress in every picture that I have of her.
I'm sure she didn't have many clothes, and what she had wear kept clean and mended as necessary.
When she went outdoors, she wore a hat and coat, as you can see in the picture below. Dad is wearing a short-sleeved shirt and she has a coat, a scarf, and gloves on!
You can also get a hint of her size here. My dad was six feet tall and she'd have been a little over five feet.
I was never afraid of her, but I think I was always somewhat in awe of her. I don't know how to explain it, but although she wasn't very big, she seemed strong to me. Without raising her voice, she was a forceful woman. Her children referred to her as "Mother," and they rarely argued with her or, if they did, not for long. That doesn't mean they always did what she would have wanted them to do, but they knew better to argue with her.
She could tell my dad she needed him to do something and he'd do it right away (which he didn't always do for me or my mother). And while my mother was about the same size or maybe a little taller, Mom seemed much softer. Maybe that was simply because Granny Shaw was very thin, and she likely had arthritis or other complaints, but I never thought of her as brittle. She certainly didn't make a big deal of any ailments she had.
I'm not sure, but I expect somewhere in my mind I remembered that Granny Shaw had stopped my mother from spanking me in anger that one time, so I felt she could and would protect me if necessary, and never hurt me.
And she had given me books, including Little Women, so that alone meant she had to be high on my list of favourite people!
But she was a serious person. Not the kind you'd joke with, or play games with. She might smile, but I don't recall hearing her laugh. Life was always serious for her. When I think of her being married at 16 and homesteading, and her first baby dying, and raising ten kids while being a farmer's wife, then losing her husband when she still had three young kids, and her sorrow at the loss of her second son, I can understand why she was so serious. She'd spent her lifetime shouldering a lot of responsibilities.
She never wore make-up; nor did most of her daughters. It simply wasn't done in her church. My mother and Aunt Jean did, and they also liked an occasional cigarette. Granny Shaw didn't object to seeing men smoke, but she didn't like to see women do it. So Mom and Aunt Jean would go outside for "a bit of fresh air" if they wanted a cigarette or just wanted to get away for a few minutes to talk to each other. Of course, she knew what they were doing, but I don't recall that she ever said anything. And sometimes I went with them.
Like her husband, George Brown Shaw, Jennie Shaw's Christian faith was of the utmost importance to her for her entire life.
I'm quite sure she didn't want my dad to marry my mother, but when he did, she was prepared not only to have them live in her house, but to teach Margaret how to be a good wife.
Maraget was taught to iron dad's shirts as well as the sheets and tea towels. And she was taught how to keep things tidy and—most important—how to cook. For most of her life, almost every every cake or pie or cookie that Mom made came from a recipe box filled with 3x5 cards that Granny Shaw had either written for her or dictated. She also taught Mom how to preserve fruit and make jams and pickles. As for meals, they were basic. Meat and potatoes and a vegetable and salad. That's what men needed. And that's what we had every day for many years.
Now, I have to add that a lot of the attention Granny Shaw gave to educating Mom might have been because she wanted to ensure that Robert was looked after in the way to which he was accustomed.
But there's also this:
In those days, a child who had been adopted from strangers was usually illegitimate, and I know that was a negative thing for many people, but I never had any sense of that from her or from any other members of my dad's family, either. In fact, I think she may have felt I needed her even more because of that. Of course, she would also have been aware of how much my parents had wanted to have a child, and that since Mom had had a hysterectomy, adoption was the only possible way.
In any case, even though Mom had told me I was adopted, it never once occurred to me that I didn't really belong, not only to my parents but to my dad's family. And, of course, the person whose opinion would have been been most influential to that family was Granny Shaw.
Speaking of Writing Things Down...
When they were married, she gave my parents a large black family Bible. From the pristine shape of the cover and most of the pages, I'm pretty sure neither Mom or Dad ever read it. There were pages in the middle to record their Marriage, Births, and Deaths, and Mom did use it to keep track of family events there.
The inscription says:
Dear Robert & Margaret,
May the pearly gates of heaven,
So far from the Sea,
Open wide dear Robert and Margaret,
To welcome you and me,
To Robert and Margaret with love and best wishes,
From your ever loving Mother.
Mrs. M. J. Shaw
When I read that inscription a few days ago, I was floored. I'd read it before, but never connected it to the fact that this was an inscription to her son and his bride, or to the fact that my dad always used R. A. Shaw, and before I was married, my signature was N. J. Shaw before it became N. J. Lindquist. Mom's signature was O. Margaret Shaw, although she sometimes skipped the "O."
Not sure what this means, but it's kind of interesting, don't you think? I always get asked why I use N. J. Lindquist. Even my psedonym is J. A. Menzies. Maybe it's Granny Shaw's fault!
Granny Shaw also gave Mom and Dad cards with religious messages, various inspirational books and little red Bible tracts (I seem to have misplaced the one I had!) and at least one other New Testament. I have the New Testament and a tract called "What Happened when Mother Prayed."
She gave Dad the New Testament for his birthday the year after I was born.
To Robert with love from Mother Feb. 13th, 1949.
She gave both of them the tract.
Speaking of prayer, I'm quite certain that she prayed for my parents, if not every day, close to it. She was determined that both my parents would ask Jesus to come into their hearts. And, of course, when I arrived, she added me to her prayer list, too.
And I just this moment realized how like her I am in this way as well. I often try to influence people through writing. Not just the hundreds of books I've given to family members and friends over the years, but I took it a step further and wrote dozens of op ed articles and blogs as well as a number of stories and books.
Wow! I might need to process that.
The two pictures below are the only ones I have of us together.
Can you relate?
Granny Shaw was in a powerful presence in my life. Maybe more than I'd even realized before writing this.
Do you recall having a relative like her?
Or, perhaps a relative you realize you are like?
LoveChild: Life Lessons from an Ugly Duckling is the story of my struggle to adjust to the life I was given, and my eventual discovery that, not only had I become a swan but, contrary to my perceptions, I had always been one. Though I didn't realize it until many years later, my life was part of a much bigger plan that all made perfect sense.
I'll be blogging my story once a week.
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