Life Lessons Learned At Grandmom's Knee

September 13, 2015 is National Grandparent’s Day.  When I think of mine I realize how much influence they had on my life. So today I would like to share some of the life lessons I learned from my maternal grandmother, Mary Josephine Finnerty McCart.

Grandmom had eleven children and 47 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I like to believe I was her favorite although the other 46 disagree.  Everyone in our small town called Grandmom “Mom”; she was that loveable.  Grandmom was a happy person even though she suffered a good amount of pain over her lifetime.  Nevertheless, Grandmom soldiered on and never allowed her sorrows to steal away her unwavering faith.  In fact, the first lesson she taught me was the importance of religious beliefs.  Since our religion stressed the frequent practice of confessing our sins, we were strongly encouraged to make certain we did.

That attendance at confession meant that every Saturday afternoon Grandmom removed her full apron, took a quick bath, and then headed off for church.  She regularly took me with her and I suspect the simple reason was to set me on some right path that steered clear of that devil’s workshop Grandmom occasionally mentioned.  

On her tired holy knees, in our small town church she had known her entire married life, Grandmom prepared for confession by examining her conscience for wrongdoings. Then she entered the small, dark, closet-like confessional where she knelt and whispered to the priest on the other side of the screen exactly what misgivings she committed and how many times she committed them.  She always wore a relieved smile afterwards - a signal she was finished with her confession and that all was forgiven. But on this summer afternoon Grandmom left the confessional with her head down.

Alarmed, I wildly imagined she had confessed to some horrific misdeed.  “What’s wrong, Grandmom?” I asked gently as only a nine-year old can. Blinking back tears, she dabbed her hazel-colored eyes with her hankie. “Father McHugh offended me a bit.”  Sniff.  Sniff. Then another quick dab of the eyes.

“Oh, Grandmom,” I said in a hushed tone, “What did Father McHugh say to you?”

 “Oh,” then another tiny sniff, “he told me, ‘Mrs. McCart, for the love of God, ya don’t have to be coming every bloody week to confession.  Ya have no sins; not a one; you’re good with the Lord of heaven and earth and everything in between.’” 

Grandmom started misting up again telling me that she had sins and lots of them.  I was only a kid but believe me, I had way more sins than she but I handled my conscience differently. I walked out of confession grinning like I got away with something. Maybe that’s why she took me so often; she knew she had to reform me.

Grandmom’s taught me another strong lesson - “drinking” could turn a person’s life upside down never to be right-side up again. It’s an understatement to say she had a strong dislike of anything to do with alcohol.  Sometimes she would say “So-and-So should live with a little more temperance in his life.” Then she’d raise her eyes heavenward.  She never said who So-and-So was but I suspected it was old Mr. Conway. Grandmom once told me “Mary Jane, since the 12th Century monks practiced the art of distilling spirits but I say, “No! No!  Only believe in The Holy Spirit!”  So, in our home, if anyone wanted a drink they better have their beer or highball on the sly.  Sometimes my father did just that at a corner tavern in our neighborhood called Conway’s.  Looking back I think that’s where So-and-So worked.

Out of respect for dear Grandmom, no one called this watering hole “Conways.”  Instead, everyone called it “That Place” so Grandmom wouldn’t find out.  Once, my dad told both Grandmom (in our multi-generational home) and my mom that he was taking my brother and me out for an ice cream. Suddenly, we found ourselves at “That Place” sitting on a spinning bar stool and sipping root beer floats from frosty mugs where lots of red-faced men told funny jokes that always began with “Did ya hear the one about…?” Now that I’m thinking about it, Grandmom probably did know where we were but she loved my father enough to look the other way and probably told it in confession to Father McHugh who, for all I knew, went to Conway’s, too.

Another lesson I learned from Grandmom was how to play cards.  She really liked the game Old Maids.  I regularly picked the Old Maid card which made Grandmom laugh and slap her knee.  It taught me how easy it was to make someone happy.
Now I’m a grandmother of three grandchildren, two of whom are teenagers, and none of these great kids thinks it’s unusual when, no matter where we are, I pull out a pack of Old Maid cards.  “Anyone feel like playing?”  I haven’t gotten a pushback yet and I think the reason is I always pick the Old Maid card.  The grandkids - Connor, Ella and Gracen - predictably laugh and shove each other around and call me the Old Maid. That’s when I get to laugh and slap my knee.  I love it.  I love them. And I love this opportunity to wish every tireless and fun-loving grandparent out there a beautiful and Happy National Grandparents’ Day as I remember my own grandmother - Mary Josephine Finnerty McCart.

                                      Published in The Sandpaper, September 9, 2015