Family & Friends

Valentine’s Day: For Granny, My First Love

In the past ten years, Women’s Voices has posted scores of stories about romantic love—adolescent love, fraught love, long-lasting love, love betrayed. For our Valentine’s Day coverage this year, we looked for stories about love in the broadest sense of the word—romantic love, sibling love, love for one’s community, love for a friend, the love between parent and child . . . Here’s the third story in the Valentine’s Day series we’re calling LOVE IN ALL CONTEXTS. —Ed


Everyone needs unconditional love, but it’s hard to find and harder to give. As a child, I found some with our cat, I Am, though he never had much to say.  Granny’s unconditional love was life-affirming.  She was on my side.  She was my first love.  We never broke up; I was never disappointed by her, and she approved of me no matter what I did. Though she died long ago, when I was in college and living in another country, I’ve clung to her love forever.

My granny was an independent and gregarious woman, a masterly teller of stories, most of them deliciously terrifying.  She had plenty of material: Her parents ran the notoriously haunted Eloise asylum in Wayne County, Michigan—her father as medical director and mother as the matron.

Granny was allowed to visit some of the patients. I loved her story of her chat with a patient who seemed perfectly sane until she whispered a secret:  “I’m married to the Pope in Rome.”

She visited her grandpa at Wayne Cemetery in Detroit. In those days, they left bodies aboveground until spring, their digging tools not coping with frozen earth. Granny’s mom was there to identify the body, stashed in the root cellar for the winter.  Forever after, Granny referred to her grandfather as “green grandpa.”

Her tale of the two men who went hunting on the Deadstream (better known as the Upper Platte), a river near their place in northern Michigan, terrified me for life.  One of the men managed to shoot a hole in the boat bottom. And all they found was their hats, the quicksand swallowing them whole.

Granny was surrounded by a bunch of Type A medical doctors:  father, brother, husband, and her two sons.  Still, in the early twentieth century she was an independent woman—living her own life, teaching as a young woman, later working with rogue realtors (the Dye brothers) who bought up much of northern Michigan before the Depression killed the business.

Granny knew everyone. I loved riding with her to visit the egg guy, the corn woman, the raspberry family farm . . . Most of all, I loved to be with Granny and soak up her love.


Scene From My Life

I was diagnosed with scarlet fever when I was 9 years old.  A strep infection with a rash, it was considered serious, and I was very sick.  Like a patient on her deathbed, I knew what I had to do.  I wrote to Granny, in Florida, far away from Michigan.  First page, in slanting letters: “and then finally mother noticed me: (turn page) I had SCARLET FEVER!!!!!”  I had the envelope and supplies, thanks to Granny.  My mother was otherwise engaged, and I wanted support.

Someone found the stamped envelope and put it into the mail slot, figuring that I’d written before illness struck.  A satisfyingly frantic call from Granny a couple of days later revealed that I had spilled the beans. A stealth action by me.

My care package—more stationery and stamps—soon arrived, as I knew it would. Granny had known that I would write her and tell all—“newsy news,” as she called it.  My big sister thought “newsy” was hilarious; it became our code word for goofy.


Scene From My Life

Granny and I together at her log cabin in northern Michigan, the rest of the family elsewhere.  Me engaged in my annual job, in which I cleaned out Granny’s desk drawer.  I felt important, entrusted with this vital task, and Granny was grateful for my assistance.  It was a messy drawer, so I rearranged it, asking about each item, surely encouraged to pocket any small change I found.  She spontaneously willed me everything I found of interest.  I actually have a small Red Cross pin denoting Granny’s wartime service as a volunteer nurse. She probably willed me her paper and pencils too.

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  • Mickey Jou March 12, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    What a lovely memory — I feel the exact same way about my grandma and her unconditional love! From what I know about you, you have taken so much after Granny, in your kindness, generosity, and sense of adventure. Thank you for writing this so beautifully, and for sharing it 🙂

  • Maura Sandrock February 13, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Toni, thank you for sharing the story of your grandmother and your special relationship with her. She reminds me a bit of my grams, who lived just shy of her 101year birthday. She too loved us grandkids unconditionally.
    Happy Valentines Day to all the grandmothers

  • Gwen Scott February 13, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    I love this, Toni! My mother’s mother was MarMar, a name I gave her when learning to talk. Like your grandmother, mine thought I was perfect too. What a coincidence that my three grandchildren are also perfect! Thank you for writing and sharing such great memories and sentiments. Happy Valentines’ Day!

  • Susanna Gaertner February 13, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Toni, I feel I know you so much better now!
    I, too, was very close to my Oma (mother’s mother) who almost single handedly raised me for the first five years of my life while my mother commuted weekly to New York to work in the garment district as a pattern maker and my father began his university teaching career.
    Reading your narrative makes me want to tell mine…though it would be hard to find the joyous or the funny.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Luneige Pampanelli February 13, 2017 at 1:08 pm