Sharon Randall: Echoes of two grandmothers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 10, 2020

By Sharon Randall

My grandmothers were about as different, one from the other, as any two women could be. One sang soprano, whistled it while she worked. The other sang alto, sultry and low. Neither of them sang especially well, but together, their voices found harmony in me.

Neta and Grace met in 1940, soon after the former’s 15-year-old daughter ran off to marry the latter’s 25-year-old son. I am told the meeting was civil, though not especially cordial. The one thing they could agree on, knowing their children as they did, was that the marriage did not have a snowball’s chance in hell.

Why do mothers always have to see a heartache coming long before it knocks on the door? They knew their children’s marriage was grief in the making. But they promised each other to pray long and hard, to do all they could to help it last.

And so began a lifelong pact between two remarkably dissimilar women, a silent but mutual agreement of the heart to make something good out of nothing. Between them was a strength sufficient to move a mountain, but it was not enough to keep my parents together. The marriage lasted eight years. When it ended, Neta and Grace continued their pact for the two things they still had in common: My sister and me.

I was 2 years old. It took no effort on my part, none whatsoever, to become both women’s favorite granddaughter. (My sister claims she was the favorite, but trust me, I know better.) Their constant and abiding love for me was a gift, free and clear. It was also my first lesson in grace, and to this day, I count it a blessing.

From the time I learned to walk until I left for college, my favorite place on Earth to be was with either of my grandmothers. As it happened, I spend much of my childhood with one or the other. I don’t know whose house I loved more.

One lived in a small town, surrounded by people, where she could know all there was to know: who, what, when, where and how much they paid for it.

The other lived on a mountain, surrounded by nature, where she could know all there was to know about plants and creatures and the changing of seasons, and the quiet reassurance of living close to the Earth.

But here is how they really differed.

My mother’s mother was preacher’s wife who seldom set foot in church. A mischievous woman, a steel magnolia, she wore white gloves to go shopping, played cards with abandon, and swore under her breath like a sailor. She loved her husband almost as much as she loved Jesus. But she could not abide, she said, certain members of the congregation, or any other fools who thought too highly of themselves.

Being with her was pure adventure and a whole lot of fun.

My father’s mother was a farmer’s wife who seldom left the farm except to go to church every Sunday. She traveled through the pages of National Geographic, and with the turning of leaves, the migration of geese and her own vivid flights of imagination.

She grew tomatoes and dahlias, hiked for miles to pick blackberries, read novels, wrote poetry and painted sunsets on stones. She made everything better, from doll clothes to biscuits to loneliness.

Being with her was pure adventure and a whole lot of fun.

But growing up in the care of two such women had an odd effect on my nature. I inherited both women’s characters, not necessarily their better traits. Like two sides of the same coin, both are who I am. But you never know which side will turn up.

It drives my husband and my children crazy.

I’m neither alto nor soprano, can’t hit the high notes, can’t touch the lows. But sometimes, when the music gets too hard for me to follow, the notes will start to dance, rearranging themselves, until I hear myself singing with a entirely different voice, a three-part harmony all my own. And it doesn’t sound half bad.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley, CA 93924 or on her website: