‘Just an old granny, but I like babies’

Grandma Dorothy with Annalise. Grandma Dorothy with Annalise.

Grandma Dorothy is not plump, but she carries a pleasant roundness that complements her gray hair — neatly combed back beneath her covering—and her round, wrinkled face. She is both short and determined. When she wants to turn on the air-conditioning unit in the trailer house where she and Grandpa Jonas live, just across the yard from our farmhouse, she climbs up on the couch to reach the knobs. That’s pretty spry for an 84-year-old.

Grandma Dorothy isn’t my grandma. She is Annalise’s grandma and Ivan’s stepmom. Ivan’s biological mom passed away when he was a young man just past his teens, and his dad and Dorothy married not long afterward, a second marriage for both.

If you stop by, Grandma Dorothy will welcome you into her trailer, beaming, and sit down and chat with you in cozy, confidential tones. As soon as you leave, she will bustle to work on some unfinished project.

Grandma Dorothy knows just how she likes things done. The year I married Ivan, her children gave her ­petunias in hanging baskets for Mother’s Day. She hung them in a row along the front of her porch, their bright blooms cascading over the sides of the pots. “I told them next year I want them all the same color,” she told me.

For reasons like these, I haven’t always been sure what to think of Grandma Dorothy. From the beginning, we got along well, but that’s only thanks to the desire to give each other space and grace. We are very different in our interests and priorities.

Then came Annalise.

Their relationship started in the hospital the day after Annalise was born. Grandma Dorothy leaned over her bassinet, all smiles, the wrinkles crossing and crisscrossing her flat face. She had brought a gift for my little girl: a pale blue teddy bear with “It’s a Boy” written across one foot. I don’t think Annalise or Grandma even noticed.

After I had recovered enough from the birth, Ivan and I dropped back into our routine of trekking across the yard every morning and evening to help his dad get dressed or undressed, into the wheelchair or out of it — but now I carried Annalise along. “I can hold her for you,” Grandma Dorothy said eagerly, the first time I brought her over, and gathered the baby into her arms, beaming.

Grandma-baby time became a daily ritual. Annalise often fell asleep while Grandma held her, her pixie face lulled to peacefulness by the love emanating from Grandma’s arms.

“You’re checking me out, aren’t you?” Grandma said to Annalise one afternoon when the child, several weeks old, stared up into her face. “Well, I’m just an old granny, but I like babies.” She delighted over Annalise’s first smiles and coos, treating every soft utterance with the same care and respect one might pay the commands of a visiting monarch.

“She sees something over there she likes to look at,” Grandma told me as she sat in her recliner with the child in her lap. She pointed across the living room at the dolls lined up on the green afghan draped across the back of her couch. “I think she sees the dolls.”

I smiled to myself with all the wisdom of my 30-something years and a college education. Of course, Annalise was much too young to care about the dolls. But soon after, I came into the living room to find Annalise propped up against a couch cushion, smiling and kicking and cooing while Grandma held a doll about a foot from her face. Annalise evidently believed the doll to be a real person, just her size.

I have come to appreciate ­Grandma Dorothy in a new way. “Are you going to be a thumb-sucker?” she asked ­Annalise the other day, noticing the tiny thumb shoved in her mouth. “Well, you get that honestly. I used to be a thumb-sucker.” I love that she has forgotten there are no genes connecting them.

My child is blessed. Every baby needs a grandma to love her.

Lucinda J. Kinsinger

Lucinda J. Kinsinger writes from Oakland, Md. The author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and Turtle Read More

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