Gutsy Grandma

Gutsy Grandma

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Gutsy Grandma

Faith is the centerpiece of a connected life. It allows us to live by the grace of invisible strands. It is a belief in a wisdom superior to our own.

Terry Tempest Williams

It started with her name.

Luella Konstance Peterson Lovstuen.

At least, we thought that was her name . . . until she died and we saw her birth certificate. Then we found out she had been born Luella Caspara Peterson. She hated her middle name and changed it to Constance . . . with a K. She loved her initials, LKL, and changed her monogram on her handkerchiefs so that the K had the most prominent spot. That’s the way she wanted it, so that’s the way it was.

She just handled it.

She bore and raised six children, three boys and three girls, during the Depression era. She carried a heavy, pregnant belly during the furnacelike summer months, when temperatures stayed over one hundred degrees for weeks on end, working to sew clothes for her children, putting up preserves for the winter and helping on the farm. She cooked for threshers on a wood-burning stove in a small kitchen without air conditioning. I might have gone mad with the heat and the work.

She just handled it.

She struggled to keep her children warm in the harsh winters that still hold records. She bore her first child in February when the temperature had been at least fifteen degrees below zero for weeks, sometimes dipping to thirty degrees below at night. She worked to keep the stove going, often sleeping next to it. Wind chills on the flat Iowa fields were worse. She toiled to keep her family warm and fed despite the lack of necessary items during the Depression.

She just handled it.

When her husband reached his thirties he became very ill with paranoid schizophrenia. He wasn’t like Russell Crowe’s movie portrayal of a misunderstood genius. He was mean, nasty, delusional and a danger to himself and others. When the safety of her children was threatened because of the disease-induced hallucinations, she made sure that he was sent somewhere to get help. She also made sure that he couldn’t threaten her children and her anymore.

She just handled it.

Times grew worse and the farm failed. She moved the six children into town, and she got a job at the local five-and-dime. She supported her family at a time when the term “single parenting” had yet to be coined. She still sewed all of their clothing and made sure that they were clean, churchgoing and well-loved. She didn’t really have time to whine about the single-parenting dynamic; she was too busy ensuring that food was on the table and her children were growing up to be decent people.

She just handled it.

As her children grew up, they got jobs and tried to help out at home, but as time went on the boys joined the service and the girls left to get married or start lives of their own. With two brothers in town and the Depression over, things began to look better. Then her brother was struck with an excruciatingly painful disease. Medication didn’t touch the pain, but it messed with his normal thought processes. In anguish he took his own life. She was devastated. None of us really knew how deeply it affected her until years later.

She just handled it.

When I reached middle age I sat talking with my grandma, who was in her late eighties, about her life. I commented on the trials and hardships she had endured. When she talked about her life, though, she talked about the joy, the blessings and the love. Problems were never the centerpiece of her conversations. This sweet, gentle woman still had such a tender heart. Mine, I fear, may have become bitter under those circumstances.

She just handled it.

“Grandma, how did you handle it all?” I asked as we talked, looking for the wisdom that would bring me through my own trials. She looked at me and the wrinkles grew deeper in her velvety skin as she smiled her sweet smile.

“I didn’t,” she said. “God did.”

Karen J. Olson

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