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i want to be a tough monkey


For some reason I am a super thrifty gal, bordering on Spartan-like. I don't know why this is, but frequently I will think to myself, "Ugh, throwing that last bit of rice away would make Grandma H spin in her grave."

Now, as you may know, Grandma H is my maternal grandmother and she died when I was two years old. I have no memory of her but I have heard a lot of stories about her. She was a hearty Pole who got on a ship to America when she was 16. There were about 10 to 15 siblings, according to my mom, but Grandma was the fourth child. She had three older sisters and she thought her mother didn't love her as much as her mother loved her older sisters.

It seems her mother routinely sewed dresses for the older three girls, but not for Grandma. All of the children had some amount of land in their names from their father (they must have been pretty well off) and my grandma sold hers to someone and pocketed the money without telling her parents. Then one day she packed up her stuff and got on a ship to America. There was a brother who lived in Detroit, so she stayed with him, met my grandpa and got married.

So she was a tough chick. My mom said she never contacted her family back in Poland. No desire. That is one tough monkey, in my book.

Anyway, she was very poor here in Michigan and she saved her pennies by never using the lights unless absolutely necessary, making hangi-berg (hamburger) last as long as possible (she never really learned English, instead using a combination of pigeon English/Polish or using her kids as translators) and not having a telephone. My dad tells the story of watching her flip the mattresses, by herself, just to keep the wear even. (Why didn't you help her flip the mattress, Dad? Details, details. . .)

She was also a solid, stocky woman. Pictures of her show someone I could totally imagine working in the fields. You know how some old black and white photos show a woman with delicate features who just screams of royalty?

That was not Grandma. Her nose was solid, her lips pressed together in a half-smile were solid, her brown hair was solid. I always liked that about her. She was a no-nonsense woman and that quality seeps through every photo of her like bacon grease through a paper towel. I think anyone who saw her photo would think the same, but maybe it's because I know the stories.

So on to my part in this. I never knew her, or what I did know of her is trapped, currently inaccessible, somewhere deep inside my brain. I wonder if hypnosis would bring anything out. Sorry for the detour. Somehow, I feel I have inherited her frugality. Growing up no one ever said, "Grandma H would be shocked if you threw that food away." No one ever invoked her name ever regarding that kind of stuff. It's just something I have picked up in my adult years. She seems like the original low-maintenance chick and I guess that's how I want to live my life.

So I have embraced that side of me and I try to have fewer times of waste.

I also think Grandma H looks down at me sometimes and is proud of her quarter-Polish granddaughter who tries to carry on the tradition of being a no-nonsense, tough monkey. (Hi Grandma!)


2007-03-18 at 8:51 a.m.

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