For some people, if you’re not blood, you’re not family. Even when you marry into a family, acceptance rests on personal whims or some private family game where the rules change with the winds of favoritism. Within this family structure, a newcomer feels unwelcome and lost. Having one person reach out and extend friendship provides an anchor to the outsider. Marie Byars Chapman provided that moor for me.
When everyone spoke of Grandmother, their voices carried a mixture of awe and resentment. Grandmother’s house meant rules. It meant remaining quiet inside, putting on your best manners, and wearing shoes. Even as they grew up, her grandchildren bore the view that Grandmother equaled decorum and manners, a strict adherence to etiquette that chaffed the younger generation.
My experience with Grandmother, though, came from a different perspective. She opened her home to me graciously and offered her affection to me abundantly. She introduced me to her friends as her granddaughter, not her grandson’s wife. She phoned to talk to me about my job, invited me out to shop and have lunch. For her, family was a state of mind—and a state of heart.
I loved the time spent at Grandmother’s house. We’d sit in her family room, surrounded by books and plants, and talk about everything. We’d read the same books at the same time, and then talk about them for hours. David, a devout non-reader of fiction, became enamored with authors like Mary Stewart, James Michener, and Mary Renault.
Forbidden topics like sex, religion and politics emerged in our endless conversations. Although we often had differing opinions, Grandmother always encouraged and never stifled me. She appreciated intelligent and witty conversation, and I loved the stories she wove for us during those lazy Saturday afternoons or long evenings when we’d dine together on left-over meatloaf converted into a stew.
Eating with Grandmother proved an adventure. She loved dishes and had many different place settings. Often, she left it up to me to select the plates and glassware. Her love of fine china meant our shopping trips always included a run by Plate and Platter. Over the years, she added to my teapot collection with several lovely pieces that I still display.
Grandmother added other things to my life, too. Her passion for music (she taught piano her entire life and had two baby grand pianos in her living room) taught me to persist in my own passion for writing. Grandmother worked most of her marriage, providing an income through her music lessons when her husband started his plastics business. She admired strong and independent women and encouraged my dedication to my career. She valued an honest, no nonsense approach to life, and yet she challenged us to reach for our dreams. No one praised David more for his art and photography. Never once did she disapprove of or diminish the life David and I built during those early years of our marriage.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman