Grandparent Orphan

Grandpa Altmann walking in yard holding hands with my sisters Mary and Betty.
After this picture was taken, he developed gangrene and had a leg amputated.

He sat in the corner of the living room on the davenport, watching me, his wrinled face glowing from the light of the lamp. I plopped down on the cool gray linoleum and began to roll around acting silly. Mama stepped into the room to scold, “Kathy, stop showing off.”

Who was that man? In my mind he was someone important. The gray fog of forgetfulness fills my mind until the next memory.

I stood in front of the table in our eat-in kitchen. Mama was behind me at the stove preparing our meal. Daddy stood at the entryway door, holding it open as an old man on crutches entered. Suddenly, a crutch slipped on the linoleum and the man fell with a crash.

Something bad had happened. I wasn’t sure what, or even who the man was. The gray fog of forgetfulness fills my mind until the next memory.

Something prompted me to crawl out of the bed I shared with a sister. Wandering into the living room I crawled up onto the davenport. The dark house didn’t scare me. Feeling cold, I felt around for something to crawl under. What I found was thin and not very warm. I looked toward the front door window where the Christmas tree stood. The night sky was pale blue and I saw the shadowy outline of the tree.

As I grew up, my family told me stories about Grandpa Altmann. He lived in a small apartment next to our garage and came to our farmhouse for all of his meals. My brothers and sisters liked to visit him. He gave them hard candies from a pint jar he kept on a shelf near his wood stove.

Grandpa had had one of his legs amputated years before, so he used crutches to get around. One winter day when Grandpa came to our house for a noon meal, snow on his crutch made the floor slippery and he fell coming into the kitchen. Badly hurt, he was put to bed in my brother Casper’s room, down the hall from the kitchen.

A few days later, Grandpa died. Mama said she was sitting at his bedside when it happened. There was a wake for him. I don’t know if they took me to it, but I do have a foggy memory of toddler-sized me standing in a crowd of tall people. I saw a shiny blue crucifix. Perhaps my brothers, sisters and I attended the wake early in the evening, and then were taken home.

When getting ready to attend the wake after milking the cows, Daddy had apparently put a dress shirt on, but tossed it on the davenport after deciding to wear a different one.

Mama and Daddy said that when they came home from Grandpa’s wake, they found me asleep on the davenport with Daddy’s dress shirt covering me. The older kids were all asleep in their beds.

Grandpa’s funeral took place on December 27th, 1952; my second birthday.

As an adolescent I mentioned my memories. My brother scoffed, “You were too young to remember that. You just remember things we told you.”

I didn’t agree with my brother.

I was told I liked to show off for Grandpa. But no one described how the light shone on the face of the old man sitting in the corner of the living room.

I was told Grandpa fell when he came into the kitchen, but no one told me where it happened or who was there. I know these things.

I was told about being found sleeping in the living room, covered with Daddy’s cast-off dress shirt. No one described to me how the dark, shadowed outline of our Christmas tree looked against the front door window.

All my other grandparents had died several years before I was born, so these memories are all I have of a grandparent. While growing up, my friends liked talking about visiting their beloved Nanas and Pops. I listened with interest, but had nothing to contribute.

It wasn’t until I became a grandma myself, I began missing not having known my grandparents. Without their example to guide me, I wonder, “Am I doing this grandma thing correctly? What is it that grandmas do? Is love and devotion for a grandma a natural biological component of grandbabies?” As a grandparent orphan, I feel sad and wish I had a bigger store of touching memories.

Grandma Rose and Jacob Altmann. Sr. in 193?

2 thoughts on “Grandparent Orphan

  1. Sure brings back memories I have of my Gramma who had a stroke while I was sitting next to her in my little rocker & she fell on me & I couldn’t get out of the chair! I was little, but do remember things others may not! Hard to replace memories & for sure people! Thanks for sharing that touching story.

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