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 My parents bought me a beautiful Mediterranean-style, hope chest for Christmas that year, and I began saving juice glasses from the gas station and wooden salad bowls from grocery store purchases to be the first and only items placed inside it. There were premiums available in those days, just for buying gas or shopping at certain stores, and I felt I was doing my part to stock up for the future, even there hadn’t technically been a marriage proposal yet. I was a junior in college, John was in the Navy stationed in Panama, and we had an understanding that if his next assignment was stateside, there would be an engagement.

When I saw the ad for Corelle dinnerware in a magazine, I went to my grandmother, gushing about how pretty I thought a particular pattern was and telling her I had sent for a free bread plate and couldn’t wait for it to come so I could show it to her. Grandma, in her inimitable way, looked at the dinnerware picture, agreed that the tiny tulips embossed around the edge were very nice, and shot me down with, “Well, Vicki, I think once your John proposes, this might just be something you and I could look into.”

She wasn’t falling for my not-so-vague pitch to help me fill my hope chest.

Her role was always that of encourager, but she also knew just where to draw the line, and I loved her for it. A week after my visit with Grandma, a handwritten recipe for her homemade noodles arrived in the mail for me. “For your hope chest,” the envelope read. I still have it 50 years later.

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Grandma was the one who dreamed up the little contest with the prize of a manicure set when I was nine and had a nasty nail-biting habit. All I had to do to be rewarded with my very own baby blue, miniature, leather set with beautiful flowers embossed on it was to prove I needed a nail file and manicure scissors. Encouragement once again. 

I was finally awarded the prize on my wedding day, the first time I could actually resist biting my nails because I wanted the photograph of John’s hand and mine to turn out well. She was still holding out hope for me. I wasn’t at all surprised my grandmother had kept the manicure set and insisted on rewarding my efforts 12 years after encouraging me to break the nail-biting habit. 

She was wonderful and would do anything for her grandkids. 

I, being the first grandchild, had the extra benefit of more time with her, and I still thank God for Ivory soap bath times in her clawfoot bathtub and the perpetually bubbling vegetable soup pot in her kitchen. 

My mom and mother-in-law were wonderful grandmothers, too, generous with their time and energy, magnanimous with their praise for all the grandkids. Our first child, Christopher, was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and both women slid into their roles so effortlessly. My mom knitted a welcome home sweater set for Chris. John’s Mom gave so generously of her time to allow me the breaks I needed when my dad became ill. 

There were special trips to the circus with my mother-in-law when each grandchild turned three, wonderful Easter egg hunts and sleepovers in the butterfly bedroom, and my mom reserved Thursdays as her day off work so she could take all of us bowling and miniature golfing and sightseeing on the riverfront or just out to lunch.  There was always fun and laughter, plenty of snapshots, and constant exceptions to the rules of the games . . . “Of course, you can move your golf ball just a little closer to the hole. It was almost there anyway. Grandma’s rules.”

And when Chris wanted to spend some time alone with his girlfriend, Maureen, over Christmas break from college, it was Grandma he asked for a couple of days’ lodgings at her home in the woods, separate bedrooms of course. That alone time, complete with snowy walks and sled-riding, hot chocolate and quiet evenings, led to serious discussions about their future, and they’ve been married for 21 years now.

What wonderful examples I had when it was my turn to be the Grandma. 

I worried because I had a lot to live up to, but when my son Adam and daughter-in-law Debby gifted me with a silver photo frame engraved with the words “Great Moms Get Promoted To Grandmas,” I knew it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t know how to knit a coming home outfit. The cross-stitched quilt I’d been working on in the lunchroom at work every day was going to be a wonderful, if several weeks too late, start.

RELATED: So God Made a Grandma

I’m Grandma to nine now, and I’m very aware that the examples of the women in my life who came before me are the reason I’m comfortable with my own role as encourager, smile-sharer, Halloween celebrater, Grandma’s rule proponent, and Zoom call expert.

I’ve been so blessed.  And I thank God every day for the Grandmas who came before me.

Vicki Bahr

I'm a mother of four, grandmother of nine, wife of John for fifty years, an incurable optimist, word lover, and story sharer. I've worked and played at many careers, from proofreader to preschool teacher, businesswoman to human interest newspaper columnist to medical records clerk. Each path has afforded me the opportunity to appreciate the warmth of humanity and to hopefully spread a lifetime of smiles, empathy, and God's inspiration along the way. My life continues to be one of delight. With experience comes understanding, with understanding comes peace.

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