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Elizabeth Curran


My Grandma Salomeelizabeth curran

“Elizabeth Joan Curran get back to this table… you have got to learn how to be a good loser.”  My Grandmother had just played the “k” in a triple letter spot and with that won a fiercely fought scrabble game.  At 14, I was going to have none of it. I shoved the scrabble board, tiles tilting and I took off upstairs to my room.  My mother held her breath wondering if I would turn around and go back and apologize.  I say that I saw my grandmother’s spirit at the top of the stairs and turned immediately around. I went back and started picking up the pieces. Grandma didn’t say anything, she  just reached over and helped me pick them up. My mother was needle pointing in the living room, and without putting down her needlework, she proclaimed, “well Mother, she has finally met her match.” 

Grandma Salome was a lady of her times and for all time, but first a little background.  She was born Salome Eleanor Rose Atherton in Altoona, Pennsylvania on October 28th, 1906.  Her parents were Rose Atherton whose family was Irish and William Clover Atherton whose family was English.  Family lore has it that William was a scallywag.  His “scallywagish” ways catch up with him and he died at 35 when Salome was only 8.  Grandma always told us that she mother had the Catholic last rites 8 x. When Salome was 12, Rose had regained  her strength and  decides to take them both  to Chicago to live with her sister Eleanor.

Grandma always said she was “poor relations” but I never knew what she meant until one day when I was about 12 or 13. Apparently, my sisters and I were getting loud playing in the living room where my Grandmother was knitting. “Ladies” How did that stern voice come from such a small woman? I used to call her my little “bird woman” Grandma. She was 5'2"and 110 pounds.  She put down her knitting and looked out over her gold rimmed glasses. “Back in my day, children were to be seen, not heard.” But that day, she looked off into the past and said “Girls, when I was a kid practicing the piano and if I accidentally hit wrong note, my uncle would come over and hit my knuckles with a ruler and say ‘you damn, dumb, thing, if you can’t get it right, don’t play at all.’ ” We looked at each other, horrified how someone could be so mean to her. “Ok Grandma”  I said, “I can take the girls into another room…they’ll be quieter, I’ll see to it.”  “No you all stay here” and her eyes were alive, sparkling, blue again “You girls, what I am going to go with all of you?”   I think in a way she liked the noise of my sisters and me for all her fussing; she was glad that no one had rapped the sparkle out of us.

She passed away 2 yrs ago this July. It was one of the hardest nights in my life.   I sobbed and shook like one of those women on CNN. You know the ones who live in war torn places that come running out of clay baked buildings and throw themselves down on the body of their loved one? As I watched the hearse take her precious lifeless body away I think I finally understood those women on TV.  They throw themselves on their loved one’s body because they want the heart connection. They want to feel their loved one’s heart one last time. This way the dying person can take some of their heart energy with them on the next stage of their journey, and the one left behind has tender memories of them for the days ahead of grief and sorrow.  As my sister held me, I had to turn my head into her shoulder as I couldn’t watch the taillights all the way to end of the driveway. I wanted to be like one of those ladies on TV and run and hold her and wail to stop the hurt.  

 I probably shouldn’t have driven home by myself, but I did. I got into my house and almost collapsed against the kitchen counter. I didn’t know a heart could hurt so much. I really didn’t want to think of life without her either. I was angry too, “how could you leave me Grandma?  What am I going to do without you?”

 I wanted one more year with her, but she was 99 and ¾. She told me when she was in her early 90’s that she would never go during the school year because she knew it would be hard on me and she didn't want me to have to miss any school.   Every few years, she would call me up and say “Liz, I have lived a long life.  It must time for me.” and I would say “Grandma ridiculous! Besides I still need you.”  And she would snap out if it.

When she was 96 she said “I don’t know if I should stay around any longer.”  I said “Oh for heaven’s sake, Salome-- make it to 100! That would be so cool besides Larry King is having Barbra Walters on tonight and I’ll becoming over for Sunday dinner and besides I still need you.”  She thought about it. “Well ok, but my birthday is in November and I don’t want you to have to miss school.  I know it will be too hard on you and the kids will worry. Plus with their grammar these days, they can’t have you out too long. So I’ll go in the summertime.”  So it was decided, except I always thought that she meant it would be some summertime off in the future.

I was with her at the hospital that April after she had fallen and broken her hip.  The nurse had brought her the evening dinner tray, but she surprisingly she pushed it away.  “Come on Grandma, here’s an ice cream sundae.  It’s your favorite.”  She wouldn’t even touch her sundae and she held my hand instead, gripping my hand with what felt like a claw, the bird woman, her hand now a strong claw resting securely on a branch. “We’ve had a lot of fun Liz.  I’ve loved you so much. “   I said “no Grandma you taught me how to love… Here Grandma, eat some of your ice cream have to eat something” She pursed her lips, shook her head and pushed it to me. “I love you Liz.”  I was crying and could barely eat or stop crying. She sat back and smiled and continued to pat my hand as she held it. “ Now sweetie, you have some ice cream. Who is your new favorite “incorrigible”?  What is their grammar like? What are they reading? And what about Carlos? Where do you think he is now? How is he doing? Do you remember when I gave you a dollar to bribe him to bring his book to class?  Eat up honey…” Vivid and lucid, her blue eyes scanning my classroom in her imagination, I knew it would be our last real meal together and it was. 

I didn’t teach summer school that summer, so I could sit with her almost every day. We would watch CNN, she would doze and I would read. By the end of June, she said, “Liz I am really tired.”  I said “I know Salome, but your granddaughter Debbie and her family is coming home soon. Again her bright blue eyes flashed. She sat up. “Jack—the little boy? And his brother? Oh I do want to see them.”  And so it was decided. We counted down the next 14 days until Debbie and her family made it home. Jack held back from the hospital looking bed not recognizing who was lying there she had lost so much weight, but the toddler Charlie ran right up into bed with her and she giggled and held him. Jack moved closer and she held them all.  They left on a Monday and by that Tuesday night she had passed. My sister Pam and I were at her bedside.

A few hours later, the undertaker arrived. The distinguished older man said he was from Halloran’s Funeral home in Highland. It was 9:00 at night and he was dressed in fine charcoal suit with a maroon tie. “Wait, you can’t come in yet!” I grabbed her purse. We all jumped into action.  “Where is her lipstick?”  I put lipstick on her and Pam combed her hair and Susan smoothed out her blouse.  

“Ok.”  I said. “She’s ready.” I turned from my grandmother and looked at the dapper gentleman.

“Mr. Halloran, I’m Elizabeth, her oldest grandchild and this is Salome our grandmother.” 

I stepped back for him to see her.  Susan and Pamela chimed in “she would never be seen in public with out lipstick on or hair combed, especially in front of gentleman.”

He smiled down at Grandma, looked back at us, picked up her hand and said “Hello Salome, it’s so nice to meet a lady.”


WWGS: What Would Grandma Say?

Decorum and Etiquette
Salome had 6 granddaughters who played high school and/ or college sports. While she was very proud of us, I think, she never came to one of any of our games. I once asked her why.  Her knitting needles were clicking and clacking and without looking up or dropping a stitch she explained in that auth nonsense way oh her …Not looking up from her knitting, she said “because women should not wear shorts in public”

I tried to explain to her that not too much skin showed. I played basketball in the late 79’s and then we wore ‘jock” socks that had bands of the school colors around the top and our shorts then came almost to our knees. I once demonstrated to her that only about 4-5 “of bare skin showed on my legs. She looks at me “Hmmm well that’s attractive.”

Apparently. If you were going to be a hussy, you better be a well dressed one!

Even if her granddaughters had no decorum or fashion sense, Grandma always did. She wore hats and gloves to the early 1970’s, never wore pants or “slacks” as she called them downtown shopping and always  kept a tube of her favorite lipstick on the wooden ledge in the front hallway so she could always put on a fresh coat as she was leaving.

By the way, men should not wear shorts in public either so we had to coach our boyfriend on what to wear to “meet Grandma.”  Husbands were okay to wear shorts!

Love at First Sight
She married Howard Redline in 1931. Howard was 6’ handsome, a businessman and an ace diplomat according to my grandma.  The first time Salome sees Howard, she says, “where did that hick come from? What kind of suit is he wearing anyways”? The first time Howard sees Salome, he says, “That’s the girl I am going to marry.” The first time they had a fight, Grandma says, “Go back to Milwaukee and buy another one of those suits.”

 “It a man’s world and I like it that way.“ 
Howard had prosperous eye optical company in downtown St. Paul. He dropped dead from a heart attack at 45 and left Salome with my mother was 21 or 22 and Auntie Joanie was 12. Salome had signed checks or papers when Howard said say “Sign here Salome” and didn't have driver license. She went on to run the company for 13 years before selling out to Benson Optical for a tidy sum.

During the first year when he died, Grandma was talking with the neighbors one day. She put the mail between the cushion of the chair she is sitting in so they wouldn’t see it and went on with her visit. 

A letter comes a few months later from the IRS and read something along these lines:
“Mrs. Redline, The notice we sent you a few months ago is due. Now you have 6 months to pay the back taxes and heavy fines.”  Salome ran to the desk, to the piles of papers, and then she turned and remembered to her horrification that the IRS letter was smushed in the cushions. 

So she decided to tell them the truth. She writes to the  IRS:  “Dear Gentleman, allow me to explain, I am a grieving widow with 2 young girls. I have been at home for 25 years and will honor my husbands debts of course but need time to figure all this out. I need to file for an extension.”  A few weeks later, a letter from the IRS came: “Dear Mrs. Redline you owe back taxes and heavy fines.” Grandma wrote again in her perfect Palmer penmanship: “Dear Gentlemen, allow me to explain, I am a grieving widow with 2 teen age girls. I have been in the back yard for 25 yrs….”  And of course she gets their same reply back in a few weeks.

She writes to a third letter to IRS. “Dear Gentlemen allow me to present myself before your firing squads at you’re earliest convenience.  Sincerely, Mrs. Redline.” 

The extension was granted.

I could get any man—that I didn’t want

Women can’t have any pleasure with out any stimulation
That part of a man’s body has no conscience

M is a sex life. And you don’t ever know any man until you live with him

The first wife scrubs the bench; the second wife sits on it

Me: “But Grandma, it’s 3 more years of school.”
Her: “Well you are going to go on living those years aren’t you?

Even a dog responds to a pat!

If someone asks you to borrow some money, have to courage to ask them to go to a bank.

Go back to the scrabble story!

Extra Credit: Anyone know this one?
The mush comes through the butter????