How to Make a Grandmother Happy

Gail Lee Martin’s daughter, Virginia Allain wrote this article for the eHow website back in 2009.

Our lives are busy and it seems like there’s never time for Grandma or great-grandma anymore. If you want to keep your family connections strong, set aside some time for your grandmother. There are lots of ways to make your grandmother happy.

gail in pink in chair

Gail Lee Martin in her favorite spot for TV watching, newspaper clipping, and chatting.

  • Call now and then. Don’t wait just for her birthday or Mother’s Day. Just call and ask how things are. Tell her what you’ve been doing. If she’s housebound or in a nursing home, then that phone call may be the highlight of her day. She may want to talk and talk if she hasn’t had much chance lately.
  • When you call or visit, ask about the good-old-days. There are lots of things about your grandmother that you probably don’t know. Where did she meet grandpa? What was her childhood like? What was it like in the Great Depression or World War II or whatever era she lived through? Encourage her to write her memories down.
  • Ask about the family tree. If the family history is not written down, it’s important to get some names and dates before that information is lost to you. Ask her to tell you about pictures in the family album. Note down the names if the album is unlabeled. You’ll be glad later on that you did.
  • Talk about things you did together in the past and family events. It will trigger memories for her and get her talking.
  • Offer to take her places, particularly if she’s stopped driving or is in a care situation. She will enjoy a family dinner at your home or a trip to the library. Consider her interests to plan an outing that is within her physical capability. Be aware if her budget is limited and find activities that fit within a social security income or else treat her to tickets.
  • Make sure your children have time with their grandmother. Create situations where they can be together in enjoyable situations so it’s a pleasant time for all. Remember she may not have the stamina and patience to babysit over-energetic youngsters, so don’t expect that.

    Gail Lee Martin with her grandchild

    Gail with one of her grandchildren.

  • Ask her to teach you things like cooking. Ask for her advice on raising a child. You don’t necessarily have to follow it, but it’s good to know alternate ways of doing something.
  • Ask her to bake your favorite cookies or knit you some slippers if she still does those activities. It gives her an opportunity to be the giver sometimes.
  • Stop by for a visit. Ask about things that she might need help with. Does her lawn need mowing? Ask if she needs any light bulbs changed or the trash bin taken to the curb. Before the visit, give her a quick call to see if there’s anything she needs to be picked up at the store.
  • Send cards for holidays and birthdays. Everyone loves to get mail. Write letters to update her on your life and include photos.

PS – These tips will work great for a grandfather as well.

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Remembering the Old Wood Stove

Guest Post by Gail’s daughter, Karen.

“I remember using these to shovel out the ashes from our wood stove. They haven’t changed at all in 60 (yikes!) years. That part of heating with a wood stove was fun. You shoveled the ashes out of a little door at the bottom.

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We had a 2-story late-19th-century farmhouse. The wood stove in the living room didn’t help much with the upstairs bedrooms!

We moved there when I was 7 and lived there until we moved to town when I was in junior high. We all had electric blankets, but we only went upstairs when it was time for bed during the winter. I remember there being ice on the inside of the windows. Good times.

I remember huddling around that stove as we hastily put on our clothes in the morning. Brrr!”

That memory triggered her sister, Ginger, to add, “in the evening, we’d sit around the stove and prop our feet as close as we could to get warm. If you smelled singed leather, you were too close.”

Karen wrote, “and thanks to Mom saving papers for each of us kids, here’s a drawing I did of OUR actual stove from the Greene farm (proving early on that I wasn’t going to be an artist!) But the teacher did give me an A on it. ”

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Sister, Cindy added her memories, “I remember the year we got the little red wagon for Christmas and thinking at the time; weren’t we all a little old for such a gift, except for Shannon. That idea sounded good, and we thought, cool! we can take turns pulling her around in it.We quickly found out what the little red wagon was for…., hauling frozen rabbit water bowl and firewood up to the house. As an adult, I understand that loading it on the wagon was a lot better than carrying a stack in my arms.”

Country School Memories

Memories of Attending a Country School – by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain

I attended a two-room school for three years. That sounds quaint and old-fashioned, but Kansas in the 1950s and early 1960s hadn’t yet consolidated the rural schools. West Branch School, east of El Dorado, Kansas was a square brick building with a spacious basement and on the main floor, the two classrooms.

 

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West Branch School – rural Butler County, Kansas

 

Mrs. West taught the first four grades, where my younger sisters, Cindy and Karen attended. I was in the upper grades, taught by Mrs. Mildred Waltman. While I was in 6th grade, my sister Susan was in the 7th grade, and my brother, Owen was in 8th grade, all in the same room. Mrs. Waltman taught all three grades plus the 5th graders.

Those four grades shared one good-sized room. The blackboard covered one wall with some large maps on a roller above it. Classes took turns being instructed at the sturdy table placed in front of the blackboard. The teacher divided her time four ways, switching from math to English to geography and from one grade level to another.

When it wasn’t our grade’s turn at the front of the room, we worked at our desks on assigned work. If we finished our assignment, we could always listen in on the class being taught at the table or we could choose a book to read. The bookshelves ran all across the longest wall under the windows. Being an avid reader, I’d hasten to finish my class work so I’d have time to read.

At the end of the school year reading awards were given. Gold embossed seals, each representing five books read, almost completely covered the inside of my reading certificate in its royal blue fake-velvet cover.

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It’s hard to imagine the workload for a teacher handling four grades at once, but Mrs. Waltman rose to the challenge. Each grade consisted of only two to four students, so essentially she customized the curriculum and we received individualized attention.

When West Branch students graduated from 8th grade, they took the bus into El Dorado Junior High to merge in with 400 students for 9th grade. The students from the country schools took placement tests and were assigned to math and English classes based on the results. I noticed that most of us ended up in the honors level classes.

The social adjustment of going from a small school to one so large was tough. Most of the town kids had attended grade schools together and had a two-year head start on Junior High when we arrived. The cliques and friendships formed over the years were not receptive to country kids. We felt like outsiders and I never overcame that feeling all through high school.

We missed the camaraderie of our cozy classroom and the freedom of the playground. In our country school, we knew everyone and they knew us. At recess, all ages from first grade through eighth grade played softball together or jumped rope or played running games. The school ground included a vintage merry-go-round that spun at dizzying speeds when the older boys pulled it round and round. You could sit on the splintery seat and grip the handrail or if you felt daring, you could stand on the seat and hold the upright pole. Sometimes centrifugal force took hold and your feet left the seat while you clung to the pole flying through the air.

When the weather was too bad, we could play in the basement of the school. I remember the 8th graders bringing a record player and we tried to learn the latest dances. This was just a few years before the Beatles took rock music by storm.

We rode the school bus to West Branch and brought our lunches in square metal lunch boxes. At our house fixing five lunches required an assembly line in the morning as we made sandwiches and packaged up homemade cookies. The school provided the square cartons of milk to go with our lunches. I think we had to bring “milk money” to pay for it, but I don’t remember how much it was.

Thank you, Mrs. Waltman, for making my years at a country school, ones that I remember so fondly.

(this has also been posted on the Our Echo website where people can share family stories)

Mom Called Me Ginger

Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain

 All Things Ginger

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, wanted to name me after Ginger Rogers but finally went with a more conservative name, Virginia. They had a family friend named Virginia.

Then they called me Ginger all my life anyway. It’s a fun nickname to have, but I found out it means different things to different people. When I lived in Australia, I found that Ginger was usually a nickname for a red-headed man.

When I first meet people now when they hear the name “Ginger,” they often say “I used to have a cat named Ginger.” Sometimes it’s a dog, or a horse, but it seems to be a common pet name.

Here are all the things that Ginger brings to mind. When I asked my friends, 42% said it makes them think of someone with red hair. 38% said it made them think of Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire. In the younger crowd, 19% associated it with Ginger on Gilligan’s Island television series.

Reasons to love being a GINGER

Ginger sounds perky and youthful and spicy. One lady couldn’t remember my name on our second meeting. “It’s something spicy, isn’t it? Like nutmeg.” Close, but not quite.

When I was a library director, I used my given name, Virginia, as “Ginger” just sounded more like a fan dancer than a librarian. As a writer, I use my official name also, but my friends still call me Ginger.

Ginger Is a Flower

ginger flower

Photo by Ginger Allain

Ginger Is a Popular Pet Name

Ginger is a color description for cats, meaning one with reddish-gold fur. The name is also popular as a pet name to mean energetic and peppy. On a list of popular dog names in the U.S., Ginger ranked #24. For cats, the name Ginger ranked #28 on the Australian list. People name their horses Ginger too.

There’s a Ginger Beer

It’s not alcoholic, it is more an offbeat soft drink like root beer is. Anyway, we discovered it last summer when a friend showed us how to make a Moscow Mule. It requires ginger beer, lime juice, and vodka.

You drink it in special copper cups with lots of ice.

Moscow Mule Copper Mug Low Poly Geometric Art
Moscow Mule Copper Mug Art

Even More Ginger Things

ginger tea

ginger ale

gingerbread men

gingerbread architectural details on Victorian houses

candied ginger root

ginger, the cooking spice

 

The Middle Martin Kid

Last year, our cousin in California rummaged out some vintage family photos, scanned them, and shared them with our cousin group on Facebook. What a treat it was to see some that were totally new to me.

martin kids from Lori

In trying to set a date for this photos, I started with the youngest in the photo. That’s Karen, born in mid-1952 so this might be Christmas of that year.  Clyde is holding Cindy, who’s next to the youngest.

I’m the middle kid (Ginger) and sitting in the middle of the sofa, next to mom (Gail). Older sister Susan sits between me and Dad. Owen is the oldest and brought his BB gun for the photo. I wonder if that was his Christmas present that year.

#NationalMiddleChildDay just happens to be today, August 12. The purpose of the day is to honor children born between the oldest and youngest siblings. At the time of this photo, Karen is the youngest but a few years later, Shannon came along. That relegated Karen to middle child status too.

I’m having fun noticing details like the shoes and clothing. What is the design on Susan’s sweater? Mom is wearing nice-looking high heels.

Owen, Mom, and Dad seem to be looking at the photographer. Karen, Cindy, and I are looking off in another direction. Maybe Aunt Marge is over there making faces to get us to smile. Susan has her eyes on the baby.

 

The 1950s Cowgirl

ginger childhood rocking horse cowgirl

Ginger Martin in full cowgirl regalia on a rocking horse made by her dad. Clyde Martin made the small chair in the background too.

We Always Wanted to be Cowboys

This photo of me reminds me of all the fun we had playing cowboys and Indians when we were kids. Primed by all those Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies, we played for hours riding our imaginary horses.

For the little ones, there were rocking horses, but for outside, we had stick horses with a sock head. If there was no stick horse, it was sufficient to hold one hand in front as though holding imaginary reins. Then we galloped about the yard urging our sure-footed horse faster and faster to escape the Indians or to capture the bad guys.

Back in the fifties, most kids had some cowboy attire to wear. Here’s my brother in his vest and chaps. Quite the little cowpoke, isn’t he. Years later when he returned from the Vietnam War, we saw the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The grown up Owen looked a lot like Robert Redford in that movie.

1950s little cowboy

Owen Martin with cowboy chaps, gloves, and vest

I also had a cowboy hat. Add to that my holster and toy six-gun, I was the image of Annie Oakley or Dale Evans, at least in my mind. Of course, those heroines of western movies would have worn boots instead of white sandals with anklets.

Owen_and_Ginger_Guess_who_s_being_smart_now._I_ll_bet_these_big

Gail Martin wrote on the back of the photo: “Guess who’s being smart now. I’ll bet these big bad cowboys won’t climb any board fences. I think they’re dancing now.” She’s referring to the fall my brother had from a saddle on a fence which resulted in his broken arm.

You might think we are standing on an old-style television, but it must be a bedside table. We didn’t have a television until I was 13-years-old.

cowboy broken arm

Owen in his bathrobe and sock feet sneaks up on an outlaw. I wonder if the hats and guns were Christmas presents and maybe Mom (Gail) got a Brownie camera too.

Here’s one more photo.

cowboy hat

Little sister, Cindy, clasps a new looking teddy bear. She’s in her footed pajamas and wearing a cowboy hat. Looks like everyone got a hat. 

 

Remember Catching Fireflies?

Childhood memories from Gail’s daughter, Virginia. 

All you need is a jar

Running around the yard at dusk trying to catch fireflies was such fun. My parents relaxed in lawn chairs, while we used up our excess energy. The grass felt cool under our bare feet.

Putting the fireflies in an old peanut-butter jar let us admire our captures and provided a small lantern as the fireflies lighted up. Dad had punched some holes in the lid so the fireflies could breathe.

The lights blinked on and off, keeping us enchanted by their activity. At the end of the evening, we released our captives and headed inside to bed.

Remember Catching Fireflies? Tell us about your childhood memories of summer evenings.