Family Archaeology: Grandma Vera

Grandma Vera fixed the roof herself and served lettuce in wedges. The metal gate to her back door was spring loaded. I climbed that gate as a girl and pretended it was a bucking horse. “Good land, that makes a racket,” she hollered at me as she planted iris. But she let me play.

Grandma Vera bought used polyester pants at yard sales. She grew up poor and unloved in a small Wyoming town. She was not a woman who said I love you. Instead she worked and skimped to give her four sons and their families a better life than she imagined possible for herself.

Her home consisted of three small rooms and a bathroom in the back of a gas station. Furnished entirely from bargains at yard sales. She put all of her boys through college and helped some grandchildren along the way as well.

Grandma hoarded junk–old shoes, paperbacks, table settings, broken lamps–she’d resell for nickels, dimes, dollars. She didn’t buy anything new for herself and she wasn’t attached to things. Except her first fancy purse. An outrageous luxury purchase made back when she taught in a one-room schoolhouse out on a lonely prairie. A finely crafted mesh metal purse. Delicate looking but strong. Enduring. With a rainbow of colors in the light like fish scales, only prettier.

Vera took the purse out once to a fancy dress dance party. Before she settled for a loveless marriage. Before she put the purse away in a drawer.