My Grandma, Marie Goodall, was a special lady. Born June 23, 1891 in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, the place my family referred to ‘the old country’. She came to America with her mother and two sisters when she was ten. At eighteen she married my grandpa, a twenty-eight year old olive farmer also from ‘the old country’.
They lived in Madera, a town about 30 minutes north of Fresno, and began to raise a family. Grandma gave birth to twelve children, but only six survived past the age of five; most passed when they were only days or months old. The oldest of those six, my Aunt Lucille was born in 1913 and just celebrated her 100th birthday this past July. My Aunt Fran is in her 80s and the other four lived into their 90s, with the exception of my dad who passed a few years ago at 89. “Something in the genes,” said my family. Seems they were right.
I remember many things about Grandma. One of my favorite memories was visiting her home in Santa Cruz. She had a small house with concrete steps bordered by a green wrought-iron fence leading up to the back door. The scent of lentil soup greeted each guest as they opened the squeaky screen door, followed by the pungent odor of the gas stove wafting through the air. Grandma swore lentil soup cured any ailment and warded off diseases so she kept a fresh pot on the stove at all times. Maybe that was one of the secrets of her longevity!
|1962 – Grandma,
Me (4yo), Mom, sister Sue (2yo)
After arriving and exchanging hugs, Grandma would take me out to the backyard where ripening vegetables of every color hid among the paths. She gave me a basket to hold while she picked eggplant, broccoli, carrots, squash, and whatever else was growing at the time. We watched as black and yellow butterflies flitted among the blooms as we came near, just staying out of reach but close enough to observe.
She also loved growing flowers. I don’t remember specific varieties, but just the colors – purples, blues, reds, oranges, and yellows. Plants were tucked into corners or hung in bunches from overhead hooks.
After she got older and could no longer live on her own, the family moved her to Fresno to Masten Towers, a residence for older folks. She missed her time in the garden and became frustrated with the tall brick building that was now her home. After consulting with the management, they gave her an area outside, just so she could feel at home. She loved that small garden and it soon became a miniature replica of her Santa Cruz backyard.
Another thing I remember was how she used to talk to me in Yugoslavian. When I was pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, she’d call me every day to check on me. “Povraćati?” she would ask – meaning “had I been sick that day?” I would usually answer a weak “Dobro” meaning that I felt good, but she could tell by my voice I wasn’t so good, and she would remind me to make (and eat) the lentil soup. I never had the heart to tell her that even the thought of lentil soup brought me close to losing my lunch, but I would be polite and let her know I would do my best to comply. I only knew a few Yugoslav words, not enough to have a conversation, but enough to let her know I was trying.
Grandma lived long enough to meet my older children, Michelle, born in 1980 and Brian, born in 1982. She didn’t smile much, and always seemed to have a stern look on her face but she was gentle and kind and offered advice to whoever would listen. When the family got together for holidays it was always the slowest moving cousin that had to sit next to her – not the most coveted seat since grandma’s dentures caused her to spit on whoever was next to her. My cousins did their best to avoid the spittle-fallout area, but I always took my time to get my food and to my delight, always ended up sitting next to her at every holiday meal. I would listen to her talk about the old country and her garden; her dreams of being a nurse, and how she, my dad and my aunts would hop the train from Madera to Fresno (while it was still moving) to get from here to there and back again. She always wore a hat, gloves, and pearl necklace to family functions, always won the Easter egg decorating contest and had the biggest nose and earlobes of anyone I knew. (Since I always sat next to her, I tended to notice those things).
In early 1985 she didn’t feel too well and ended up in the hospital. She passed away in May 1985 – one month shy of her 96th birthday. I have a picture of her, looking proud but serious, wearing one of her hats and a pair of gloves, hanging with the other family portraits in the hall. I have grown my own vegetables when space permitted and to this day I always keep a bag of lentils in the freezer just in case the urge for soup strikes – which it does from time to time, especially in the winter months.
My grandma was a special person and I’m thankful I had the chance to get to know her. Whenever black and yellow butterflies flit in and out of the backyard, I think of her. Maybe it’s her way of checking to make sure I’m still eating my soup and working in the garden or a reminder of special times in the past. Either way, I’ll do my best to preserve her legacy for the next generation.