Even as a very young girl, I remember recognizing the safe, warm feeling I had while in the home of my Grandmother Olcott. She lived in a small, rural town where women wore curlers in their hair to the grocery store on Saturday afternoons and gathered eggs in their backyard chicken coops before breakfast. This was a place where people knew one another—where your neighbor’s success or heartache was also your own.
My grandmother drove the school bus in this town for more than thirty years, so each and every child within a twenty-mile radius of her route was known by name and loved. One by one, on weekdays at eight and again at three, children were individually greeted as they entered the large mechanical door of my grandma’s yellow school bus, where she always had a cheerful smile to share, as well as a kind word or a small piece of candy. The kids all recognized that my grandmother’s heart was every bit as big as her steering wheel, so they respected her and did their best to stay in line. Even the tough ones.
In addition to “driving bus,” my grandma also helped my grandpa at their shoe repair shop on Main Street, did custodial work for the local church, and created custom-made wedding cakes—magnificent edible towers, stacked high with layers and layers of creamy, white icing. I remember watching her craft the intricate decorations for these marvelous masterpieces—exquisite flowers made of lightly colored frosting, and leaves that looked far too lovely to eat. She would stand by the window in her bright, sunny kitchen using the daylight to help her see every detail more clearly. But the most illuminating part to me was my grandmother’s extraordinary patience as she let me practice making these charming flowers on my own.
As I ineffectively crafted blobs of gooey sweetness onto the long, metal instrument she used for spinning the petals, she would repeatedly encourage me to keep trying—even though I was obviously frosting-flower-impaired. My Grandmother Olcott never let me think of myself as a culinary klutz, although she may have secretly wondered if I had been switched at birth! She just overlooked my weakness, without judgment, and accepted me unconditionally. And I deeply valued that acceptance.
I remember her continual humming and singing as we worked together in her kitchen, singing songs like, “Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you?” Whether we were decorating wedding cakes, bottling homegrown tomatoes, or peeling potatoes for dinner, my grandma talked about her upcoming projects and plans. She was without question an optimistic dreamer. But she was also a doer.
No project, assignment, or obstacle could stop my fearless grandmother in her tracks. She just plowed forward with a positive, confident attitude regardless of what she happened to be doing at that particular moment. Even with a husband who suffered through multiple hip surgeries, and a son who dealt with severe health problems in his youth, my grandmother got up each morning and expected only the best from every new day. She was a shining example of resilience and determination throughout her entire life.
In a world where most people are daily trying to escape from reality, my grandmother taught me to improve mine. And through her example of hard work and perseverance, I have learned that life is always as good as you make it.