Friday, May 23, 2008

Faith and Gumption




I was going to post funeral pictures but I realized it is only proper to remember that she lived first. My Grandmother (that is my Mother's Mother) was born in Ramah, New Mexico in 1918. Her Mother gave birth to her in a log and stone house that still stands sturdy and stalwart-- a testament to pioneer craftsmanship and a metaphor for my Grandmother. She was the oldest in her family. Her Pa came and went and eventually went for good. She watched over her younger siblings and cared for her Mother. She met my Grandfather Joseph Nicoll when she was 16. He later said he used to take his horse to the pasture across from where Idelle lived. He could hear her playing the piano (self-taught, no lessons!) and he would linger and imagine that she was playing just for him. Then, one day she invited him over for some of her homemade chocolate cake and that was it for him-- he was completley smitten. When he asked her to marry him, she said, "Only in the temple, Joe Nicoll." and he agreed. They borrowed someone's old model-T Ford and drove to Mesa. He asked her to wait in the foyer. He ran to the nearest jewelry store and bought her a gold band. It was several sizes too big but she wore it the rest of her life. She was sixteen and he was nineteen. They went back to Ramah and began their life together. Together they built a two-room cabin. (The picture is that cabin today) Over the years they added to the cabin as they added to their family. Four of their six children were born there. They did not have indoor plumbing until the late 1950's. They still didn't have a hot water heater when I was a little girl in the early sixties. I remember her giving me a bath in a washtub she had filled with water warmed on the stove.
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Grandpa Joe lost a finger in a cement mixer one day. Idelle insisted that the other men who were working with him look for the finger and wash it off. They brought it to her and she got a needle and thread and sewed it back on for him. Years later she declared it would have been fine if he had kept it clean and not insisted on going right back to work. Instead, we got to hear all the funny stories he made up about how he lost his finger.
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Idelle played the accordian and the piano and she sang like an angel. She sang all day long as she went about her work. She would sing our praises if we were being good: "Oh, my sweet little princesses are so precious to me!" and sing our scolding if we were in trouble: "Oh, you better shut the door or the flies will come in, the flies will come in, the flies will come in!" She sang as she scrubbed her kitchen and hung the clothes out on the line. She sang in the garden and in the shower. She played the organ for church and also served in many callings. When the Ramah Ward split into two, she attended both wards' meetings. She figured if there were meetings at the church, she should be there.
She was famous in town for her cooking and cake decorating. She was a cook at the grade school for years and believe me, those were not the usual school lunches. I have a book of her recipes that my cousin compiled-- after 25 years of cooking I still don't have the expertise to take on her specialties.

* * *
She called all of her granddaughters "Princess", but I was her "Indian Princess". Out of all her twenty-some granddaughters, I got the name because in a crowd of blue-eyed, blonde cousins, I had dark hair and eyes and my skin got very brown in the summer sun (remember--that was in the days before sunscreen!) She signed all of her cards and letters to me: "With Love to My One and Only Indian Princess, JoAnna".

* * *

Last October, I went to visit her. She was very ill and looked so frail. I stayed with her and took care of her through the night for the time that I was there. Her daughters and my cousins and sisters were all taking turns with her care and they were kind enough to let me have a turn for the short time I could be there. One morning she took a long time getting up. Everyone else was gone and I sat on the bed next to her and rubbed her back. She was leaning forward with her head down and groaning a little. I wanted to tell her how I felt about her but I wasn't sure how lucid she was. I leaned over to her and said, "Grandmother, you have given me everything I ever wanted from you: your faith and your gumption." She burst into laughter and raised her head up. "Darn right!" she said. I told her I was sure my family didn't always appreciate my gumption and that it surprised my husband from time to time-- I may seem quiet but I can be very determined. She laughed again and said, "They couldn't have any better! You know we have a legacy of faith and determination. Old Mr. Jacob Hamblin gets all the credit and attention, but remember there were so many who quietly went about their business and kept the faith."
"Like you." I said.
I kissed her soft cheek. She smiled and her head dropped back to her chest.
From time to time one or another of my kids will ask why they don't have a rich relative to leave them money; I tell them they are inheriting something more precious than gold: Gumption! They're not sure they believe me yet.


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