Sharon Randall: Keeping close to family

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021

By Sharon Randall

Have you ever read a letter that made you tremble like leaves on a poplar?

My grandmother raised 10 children, nine high-spirited girls and one tight-lipped boy. In his defense, she often said, “Jim would talk if the girls gave him a chance to open his mouth.”

To support the family, my granddad became what he called a Jack of Many Trades: A baker, a chef, a traveling shoe salesman and a part-time preacher.

His wife would say, “Fred works for the Lord, when he can’t find a paying job.”

After their children grew up, my grandmother missed having someone to dote on. She’d beg my mother to let me stay for a night. Or a week. And Granddad would drive me to and from school, 10 miles each way.

I loved it. I’d sit in the porch swing resting my head on my grandmother’s bosom, singing and swinging for hours.

I’d stay up late watching TV with Granddad: “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide,” and my favorite, “Father Knows Best.”

And I could eat whatever I pleased: Cornbread, fried chicken and Grandmother’s famous banana pudding.

My only chore was to walk two blocks to the post office to fetch the mail. Grandmother would stand in front of her house like a prison guard to watch me.

“Look out, child!” she’d yell, “that fool is driving too fast!”

The post office door was heavy. I’d wait for a grownup to open it, then dart inside before it shut. I’d run my hand along the mailboxes to find the right one, turn the dial to the exact combination (I knew it by heart), open it up, pull out the mail and clutch it to my chest.

My grandparents’ youngest daughter had married and moved to a foreign country that my grandmother called “California of All Places.” Phone calls were costly, so she and Aunt Shirley exchanged letters most every week. If the mailbox held a letter from California of All Places, I knew it was going to be an especially good day.

Hurrying back, I’d wave the letter in the air. When Grandmother saw it, she’d do a funny little grandmother dance. I felt so important placing it in her hands. But the best part was watching her read it. She’d rip open the envelope, unfold the pages and smile at the words: “Dear Mama.” And then, for some reason, she’d start to tremble like leaves on a poplar.

I wish you could’ve seen her.

I didn’t understand it then, but I do now that I’m a mother and a grandmother. It’s called joy.

She’d read the letter silently to herself, laughing or pausing to dry a tear. Then she’d read it aloud just for me. It was better than a bowl of banana pudding.

Years later, after college, I flew to California of All Places to spend the summer with Aunt Shirley, her husband and their 2-year-old. Summer stretched into the rest of my life. They introduced me to a friend they called “a good guy.” I married him and started a family.

For years I wrote letters to my grandparents, who were too hard of hearing to talk on the phone. And I called my parents most every week.

One by one, they all left this world for a place with no need for letters or phone calls. I lost the good guy to cancer. Years later I met another good guy and married him, too.

My children are grown now, with children of their own. We keep in touch with texts and emails and phone calls. But letters are a thing of the past.
Communication has changed in so many ways, but some fine things remain the same. We still need to keep in touch with our loved ones. Feeling close to them will always bring us joy.

An hour ago, as I was writing this column, my phone rang. It was Henry, my 9-year-old grandson, calling to tell me about his day. When I picked up the phone, I heard him say “Hey, Nana!” And I felt my heart tremble like leaves on a poplar.


Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or at