By Gretchen Wehmhoff

I was hanging with my maternal grandmother in her kitchen. Two of my cousins and I had taken a ski trip in Oregon, then headed to the coast to visit our grandparents. My cousins were off doing something with Grandpa, and I, in my 20s, was visiting with Grandma. It was small talk until she stopped, put down her bowl and looked straight into my soul.

“You know,” she said with unbreakable seriousness, “No one can take care of you better than you.”

I looked back at her, nodding, frozen, because I didn’t know what else to say. She was telling me what I needed to know at a time I never really wanted to think about it. She was right.

With my severe asthma and multiple allergies, I had to be aware of my surroundings, everywhere I went and everything I ate – all of the time.  I was the one person who would always be with me. The only person who would always be with me.

 She also told me, “If you want to get something done, put on your shoes.”

I still live by that one.

Both of my grandmothers, born at the turn of the century, had college degrees. Both were among the first generation of women to vote.  

Both grandmothers raised their children through the Great Depression and both survived to see grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Both became teachers. Both insisted their children go to college.

Both married smart, hardworking men.

My paternal grandparents wrote love notes to each other while Grandpa served in World War I. They then saw their oldest son head off to fight in Europe, thousands of miles away during World War II and their youngest son serve in the Korean war. Their daughter, a replica of her parents, became a nurse.

My great grandmothers were extra tough. One gave birth to a dozen children, to have four survive. My grandfather had to quit school in the eighth grade to help support the family when my great-grandfather was terminally ill for years. His mom, my great-grandma, raised her kids, took care of her sick husband and didn’t take nonsense from anyone. There was no time for foolishness.

One great-grandmother crossed the country in the 1800s as a single mother with her boys. She certainly didn’t have a mini-van for that trip – never mind electronics to keep them busy.  

My paternal grandmother was the optimist of the family. She saw no darkness in her children or grandchildren. She raised her kids with a strong voice, and perhaps a willow branch or two, but she raised them to be productive members of society. She believed in them.

She believed in me. When cousins or aunts and uncles would worry about me doing something alone, like traveling to Europe, or across town in a rental car by myself  – grandma would tell them to never mind. “She’ll be fine, just let her be.”

I’m sure grandma stood her ground with her children, doled out the punishment then went to the back yard and had a great belly laugh. That’s who she was. She saw the sunshine in every cloud. Actually, my mother had a lot in common with both of my grandmothers.

I’m pretty much a wimp compared to the matrons of our family. I can drive a car around town and without even getting out of the vehicle, groceries are loaded, online shopping is dropped in my trunk and someone hands my high quality – or expensive – coffee through a window. 

The women in my family, generations back, are the reason I’m here. They survived, raised their families to have a better life and never looked back.  And if they did, they never complained. I want to be like them when I grow up.