My Grandmother and her catch
If I were presented with a chance to work anywhere I wanted and to choose any profession that suited me I think I would choose something quite ordinary and not requiring a college education. It wouldn’t have anything to do with art or music or theater or any of the subjects I loved when I was young. (and I still love.)
But that is beside the point of this post.
If I could choose any job I would want it to be this one:
I would choose to work for my paternal grandparents at their dry cleaners for fifty cents an hour. Why would I do that? Because my grandmother would be there.
My grandmother, Frances Mackey Fletcher died in 1995 after a six year battle with Alzheimers. Even with her disease she was a sweet and charming person. But when she was strong in mind and body she was my dear grandmother, full of love and stories.
She worked all of her life in a mom and pop dry cleaners she and my grandfather owned. She was involved in church, heading up the Sunday School department and belonged to the Salvation Army Ladies Auxiliary. She once told me that she decided early on in their marriage that she needed to be involved with my grandfather’s interests, baseball and fishing so she took up both as hobbies.
My grandparents’ house was a shelter from the storm not only for our whole extended family but for many others. My grandmother adopted all sorts of people who needed attention and when our family was at their house you could expect some friends of my grandparents to be there too.
For quite a few Christmas seasons in the mid to late seventies Vietnamese refugees, Yom and Kim were invited to the family celebrations. After they moved to New York they still kept up with my grandmother.
Laughter and twinkly eyes were two of the most memorable aspects of my grandmother’s personality. And the telling of tales. I can still remember my grandmother’s voice as she told scary stories to all eight of her grandchildren when we spent the night at her house on Saturday nights.
We would all gather in the living room, sit in front of the fireplace and listen to my grandmother spin one of her many tales. When the story began to get a little scary grandmother’s voice would get lower and softer. My spine would start to twitch and by the time she sprang the scare on us the chill would be full-blown.
When I was thirteen years old my grandmother gave me my first job. I worked on Saturdays in their cleaners while my grandparents went fishing. I was paid fifty cents an hour. My only requirements were to watch the front, give people their clean clothes, bag them if need be and make change.
My grandmother taught me how to make change correctly of course and this was before computers did everything. No one ever complained that they were shortchanged and making change helped me with math.
In the summer months I worked for four hours a day for my grandparents during the week. After I took care of my duties I would sit down beside my grandmother and listen to her stories. She told me what it was like when she was growing up and about her parents and cousins.
Back then soap operas were only fifteen minutes long. My grandmother loved As the World Turns and when the show was on she would hand me a Dr. Pepper and we would settle in to watch.
My grandfather was a hoot too. Very introverted and quiet but with a dry wit.
Once when asked why he was so quiet he replied, “I know what I know and I know what you know but you don’t know what I know.” Kind of Rumsfeldian.
My grandmother had a little side business making childrens winter hats. They were made of bright colored corderoy with bells and appliques and children who wore them looked like Christmas elves.
My grandmother taught me simple stitches and let me sew some of her hats. She had them displayed in the front of the store and they sold like hotcakes during the fall and winter months.
My grandparents’ cleaners was in a small building on a busy street in town. There was a little house behind it and one day my grandmother could hear someone crying. Being my grandmother she went to investigate and discovered a young nineteen year old Japanese woman with a black eye. Her husband had beaten her up. Her name was Shiyoka and my grandmother quickly took her under her wing.
My grandfather notified the military authorities at the local army post about what Shiyoka’s husband had done to her and he was quickly taken under their wing.
I don’t remember ever seeing Shiyoka’s husband around but I understand that he had a change of heart and straightened himself out and they were reunited.
Shiyoka became a presence in the cleaners many days as my grandmother gave her some stitching, and hemming jobs to help her out. She took Shiyoka to church.
One day Shiyoka invited me to tea at her house. I was excited for days before the event. When the day arrived she greeted me very formally, had me sit down and served me a cup of tea and some sugar cookies.
Shiyoka showed me her collection of dolls and played some Japanese music for me on her record player. Then she showed me her picture album with photos of her homeland and family.
There was a little mom and pop grocery store a block away named Charlies and Shiyoka took me there and bought me candy.
After my grandmother died we were going through her house and found a box full of letters from Shiyoka to my grandmother. She and her husband had reunited and he stayed in the military. Shiyoka wrote faithfully to my grandmother from many posts all over the country.
I still think of Shiyoka and wonder how she is today.
Later when I was older and planning my wedding my grandmother made half of the bridesmaid dresses. (My other grandmother who was also a character made the other dresses.)
She made my wedding veil. She also made my bridesmaid’s headpieces. I could go on and on about this precious grandmother and all that she taught me and how I treasured my time with her but that would make this post too long.
Suffice it to say that I would quit my job to take that fifty cent position just to hear another story from my grandmother again.
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