|Photo courtesy of my niece - permission obtained.|
From a very early age I remember being dropped off with her and Grandpa. My mom who was recently divorced and worked during the day as a preschool director and went to community college at night taking child development classes. Grandma and I hung out. She had no toys. Usually I would "help" her make tortillas and then enjoy the fresh ones with some of her style pinto beans. Or even better than that - her cream of wheat. Occasionally, I would get to go explore Grandpa's tool shed and help him fix something but usually I would stay close to Grandma - she had the good food and the buttons.
She lived in a horrible part of town. To put it in perspective when I took T Rex Dad to see her at her home after we were newly married we showed up and he stated, "Ah it's not so bad.... There's only one bullet hole in the house..." I inquired of Grandma where the others had gone. She stated, pointing to the living room around the wood burning stove, "Well, this wall caught on fire so all the walls were replaced." Drive by shootings were not that common but they were also not uncommon. Still she continued to live there because she remembered when it was a charming little neighborhood where everyone knew everyone. Oddly, I never felt unsafe there. I am sure my mother had some reservations about the location, but as far as leaving her toddler daughter with someone, she could imagine no one more competent than this woman who had raised 8 children and birthed 12 (high infant mortality in those days).
Grandma Moda had a huge love of animals and seemed to always be taking in strays. She seemed to always have a couple of different cats. For many, many years she had a sheep dog she called Gringo. He was huge. I always chuckled when he would try to sneak into the house when someone came in from the back yard. Rarely did he get in because she would stop him at the door, pick him up, and carry him back out the door. May not sound too impressive unless you factor into the equation she was four feet seven inches tall and about 78 pounds. She was smaller than the dog. Toward the end of her life she carried a came. I recall picking her up and helping her into the vehicle. In doing so, it was clear she did not need the cane but it was more of a highly effective defensive weapon. Think Yoda - tiny, unassuming, yet powerful and strong. Strong physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (she was deeply religious and a dedicated Catholic).
She also had no teeth. Well, technically she did but when I about five years old and asked her where they were she took me to the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. Inside in a glass jar were her set of false teeth. Goodness, I had nightmares about this for years. She felt bad for scaring me but also chuckled. She was a bit of a jokester, too.
Grandma and Grandpa were also people of little means. They seemed to always give whenever they received. It left them with little to their names, but they seemed to always get by. I never received a Christmas gift from them. I do remember they would hide money in my bag for me to sneak into my mom's purse when they knew she was struggling to make ends meet. Grandma knew my mom would refuse the help. When I graduated from high school she gave me a quilt entirely hand sewn and made with various scraps and pieces of her old dresses. Today I will not even use it because it is too highly prized.
As I said, Grandma had no toys but she had a tin of buttons. When we were not cooking or cleaning, she would pull it out and let me sort through it looking for interesting ones. My favorite, though, was to try and guess how many were in the tin and then empty it out and see how close I was. It always seemed the tin had different buttons. I could never figure this out. Years later I realized she had about 6 different bins full of buttons which she would rotate through.
I still love collecting buttons. I still enjoy going through other people's button collections. To this day I have yet to encounter a woman with as much compassion and forgiveness matched with hard-working and happy demeanor. When I was older she would always cry when we parted company. She lived for her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. Rarely could she travel to them as she never learned to drive but she always prayed for all of them.
It's been almost five years since she went to heaven and let me tell you, I'm not sure how He survived without her for nearly 99 years. I do know that someday when my time comes, it will be one sweet reunion.
For now, though, I will have lots of memories many of which I am reminded of when sorting through tins of buttons - either my own or someone else's.
This above portion was written months ago but it just did not seem finished. Now it does. Keep reading...
Until recently, I had no buttons from Grandma's collection. Well, remember that incredible gift my sister gave me? This is it...
She made a Christmas tree decorated with buttons from one of Grandma Moda's button tins. I had no idea she even had these. I am still in awe when I look at it. I've actually really missed Grandma lately and this has a nice reminder of her . Now I have a piece of that happy memory.