Grandma Barron

John W. Pinkerton

I wasn't there when my Grandmother Barron died.  I've never been “there” when someone I cared about died.  Even when my mother passed, I had stepped out for a cigarette.  Maybe when I'm about to die, I'll step out for a cigarette and avoid the whole thing.

I loved my Grandma Barron.  She was always kind to me.  I never remember her saying a harsh word to me although I know I deserved one or two.

When I was first old enough to realize who she was, she was working at a girls' school.  It was a state place for girls who had gotten in trouble with the law or girls who simply didn't have homes to go to…not little girls, but girls not quite grown.  She was a house mother.  I visited her there fairly often.  It looked like a college campus more than a place for wayward girls.  She did this job for several years after her husband, my grandpa Harrison, suddenly died of a heart attack.  The job seemed to suit her.  She was a wonderful combination of no nonsense and kindness.

A good illustration of this occurred after she left the school and retired to a little apartment in Alexandria.  One of the girls she had mentored at the school came to her and asked her to take her in because she had no money nor any place to go.  Grandmother took her in.  After living with her for some weeks, she got a call  from the city jail; the girl had been arrested for writing bad checks.

Grandmother got in her old red Ford and drove to the jail and asked the jailers to let her go.  I'm sure the jailers were a little amused by the old woman who was petitioning them.  In her plea she pointed out to them that they let all the real crooks get out of jail---why not her?  A few hours later the girl was released and showed up at Grandmother's door.  This is where the not putting up with nonsense comes in.  Grandmother told her in no uncertain terms to pack up her stuff and move along.  Of course, she did.

Grandmother had a tough beginning.  She was born first into a family which included four sisters.  Each was about a year apart in age.  Their mother suddenly died…no one ever told me what had killed her…but being that she was the eldest, it fell to her to raise the younger girls.  I think this is probably when the kindness in her began and the no nonsense also.  She must have done a pretty good job with the girls because they all got grown and married and had families of their own.

She married Harrison Barron, had a boy and a girl, and suffered because Harrison died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

To me she always seemed the same never changing even when she approached her final days.  She passed away at 95 from heart failure.

She was living with her daughter, my mother, when she passed away.  She had had a pretty bad stroke a few years before her passing, but Mother, bless her heart, worked with her every day encouraging her to quilt.  Grandmother did work on quilt squares and because they were so poorly done, Mother would rip out the stitching each night and have her begin again the next day.  In a few months, you would never have known that she had had a stroke.

I still feel pangs of guilt about the harsh way I spoke to her when she burned a shirt of mine while ironing it.  I wish I could get those words back.  Although I was young at the time, that is a weak excuse.

Probably the best things I ever did for her was to take a photograph of her sitting in an easy chair with an Afgan stretched over her.  It was a great photo that I had  enlarged and nicely framed, and I painted a portrait of her holding my infant mother in her arms.  They hung near her where she sat and drank her coffee each day.

I don't think Dad cared much for her.  I'm not surprised.  As the saying goes, she had his number.  I recall that Dad was complaining one day about the cast he had on an arm he had broken.  He said, “I ought to saw this thing off.”  Grandmother quickly volunteered for the task.  That ended that discussion.

I don't recall Mother ever saying an unkind word about her mother, and, believe me, I heard her say many unkind words about folks she didn't like.  She always tried to look out for her just as Grandmother had looked out for Mother.

Grandma was the only musical relative I've ever had.  She had an old zither that she could play with ease and great dexterity and a harmonica, which I think she took up in her later years, was no problem for her.  Her favorite tune on the zither was “O Them Golden Slippers.”   When I asked her what she would like for Christmas, she replied, “…a harmonica with 'Silent Night' in it.”  Most impressive was the magical way she could clap her hands.  The speed and rhythm was amazing.  I tried to emulate her clapping, but it was an impossible task for me.

Once when we were traveling together, I asked her if she had her harmonica with her…she “just happened” to have it with her.

Grandma had all the skills one would expect of a woman of her generation, canning, cooking, growing vegetables, sewing, knitting, quilting.  Most of these are skills no longer held in high regard.

Of all the relatives who have gone to their rewards, Grandma is probably the one with whom I would most like to sit and drink my coffee.


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