For the Record: Grandma’s last letter leaves me longing for the good, old days
Today I got a letter from my grandma. She wrote it two days before she died suddenly of a heart attack.
It was one of her usual letters. She wrote about the things that filled her days since my grandpa died two years ago and since she was unable to get around much herself. She wrote about my dad and his sister coming over to take her grocery shopping, mow her lawn and take her to visit other relatives. There was no foreshadowing of the things to come. There was just a little note to write back.
I will always remember my grandma baking and sewing. She was great at both.
Her name was Dorothy Leininger, nee Beam. She was 89 years old and had been living in the same house in Wellington, Ohio, since she married Hart Michael Leininger 60 years ago. They raised four children.
I have many memories of holidays and Sunday dinners in that farmhouse. My grandma had great big Ohio-style dinners with pot roast, homemade noodles, mashed potatoes, corn from the garden and always some pie afterwards. The kids sat at a card table and one of us had to say the prayer before we ate.
Until recently, the house looked exactly the same, although the barns, chicken coops and other outbuildings were being slowly torn down. The surrounding corn fields are now plowed by other farmers. When we were kids, all the cousins would play in the haylofts with the countless stray cats my grandma always fed. We’d pick blackberries that grew along the property line.
My brother and I would play dominoes on the living room floor on that same orange carpet. If we spent the night, I would sleep in the room my father slept in when he was a little boy.
And always, quietly in the background, would be my grandma – cooking and cleaning and baking and mending and going to church.
As I grew older, she was always fussing about my hair in my eyes and giving me barrettes.
I wore my hair back at the funeral to make her happy.
After the funeral, we went to grandma’s. The orange carpet was gone. The wallpaper was different. Grandma still had cookies in the cookie jar and pieces of her next quilt laid out in the sewing room.
Her four children must decide what to do with the house they grew up in. Watching their long faces taking what could be their last look around the house, I could tell they were feeling the same as I was – losing this house means she really isn’t coming back. It means the loss of our safe haven. Our childhood memories will now have to sustain us.
The grandkids were asked to write down one thing they wanted to keep. I never looked around the house for things to take before, so I didn’t know what to write down.
Each little piece taken separately doesn’t remind me of her – it is the whole house. I almost never saw her outside of that house, and rarely out of the kitchen.
My brother wrote down the cookie jar. It was a running joke in our family that grandma could hear you sneaking a cookie wherever she was in the house.
I looked around for pictures of my grandma, feeling a little like I was snooping where I didn’t belong. Finally, I asked for a picture of her or the house or something she made with her own hands, like one of her quilts. I’d just like to have something to hold in my hands that will take me back to that time when she was still baking in the kitchen as the rest of the family sat around the table, and everything was as it should be.
(Merrie Leininger is a reporter for The Record-Courier.)