Ever since I was little, before I could even open my mouth to think about criticizing someone or anything about them, my mom would pounce in mid-sentence to stop me. She would immediately tell the story about her Grandma Starner (Great Grandma Starner to me), who had the worst varicose veins she’d ever seen. She told herself how horrible it would be to have legs like that and that it was never going to happen to her. And then it did…or so she says. My mom claims she got it way worse than Grandma Starner ever did and she’s pretty sure it’s because she scorned them as a little girl.
It’s safe to say I’m not such a good person that I never criticize anyone or anything but thanks to my mom, I generally keep my grumbling to the confines of my own head. Obviously, if I were to say it out loud I would jinx myself. I cross my fingers while I’m thinking it, just to be sure. I guess I should have crossed my toes, too, because one of the things I have inwardly rebuked all my life has now become a reality of our family existence.
My dad’s parents, Granny Ruth and Grandpa Fred, ranched in Bridger when they were raising their four young kids. From the stories I’ve been told over the years, it sounds like a lot of mayhem and chaos (and fun, clearly) took place, so much so that when my Uncle Lanny was a toddler, Granny tied him to a clothesline via some sort of leash-type thing so he could run back and forth along the cord and she would always know he was safe. There was a ditch that ran through the property so it kind of makes sense in some weird way but that, combined with the time one of her kids got rammed by a, well, ram, and the other time my dad got run over by the neighbor when she backed out of her driveway made me question my grandma’s attentiveness as a mother. She used to always laugh and say that every time the neighbors saw the Baumann pickup heading to town, they would wonder which kid was headed to the ER “this time.” Granny was one of my favorite people in the world but I always wondered what she was so busy doing during these injury-laden incidents.
Then our youngest turned into a two-year-old and I knew exactly what Granny was doing. She was blow-drying her hair, emptying the dishwasher and helping her other kids with their homework. At least that’s what I envision her doing because that’s where I was when our curly-haired blondie got into her older brother’s allergy meds, decided she could reach the purple sparkly colored pencil on top of the piano if she balanced her whole body on the inside of her pinky toenail while standing on a barstool, and attempted to do pirouettes on the arm of our couch for the 394th time. We’ve certainly had to make our fair share of white-knuckled trips to the ER, and waving at our neighbors as we go barreling past. Thankfully we have something Granny never had—a direct line to the ER so we can ask if “this time” is a pedal-to-the-metal sprint or a “keep a close eye at home” kind of moment. The amazing ER staff probably has our phone number memorized by now; I’d rather have them recognize us by voice than by face.
My “judginess” toward Granny’s apparent absence withered more and more with each child we had, and I can say with complete confidence it’s nowhere to be found these days. I totally get it. I’m with our kids 24/7 and still, they find ways to get into mischief. We’re fortunate that safety features have improved and technology has made communications better but even with that, kids will be kids. They’ve been falling off chairs, sticking fingers where they shouldn’t and putting everything they can into their mouth since time began. Literally. It isn’t going to change now and no matter how much you say it’s not going to happen to you, it will. Or it won’t. Who’s to say? It’s just like those veins--you can go through your whole life without lifting anything heavy or crossing your legs and you might have the smoothest legs a person could ask for. Or you might not.
There are a million things I would love to discuss with Granny if she were still around today, (like more info on where a person might find one of those leash-type doohickeys she used to constrain my uncle), but the first thing I would do is apologize for all those times I questioned her as a mother. She never knew it, of course, and one thing about Granny is she never would have questioned her own ability (at least not in public) but sometimes I question my own. Maybe that hug would be for me. Either way, she would tell me not to worry and that in life, you can’t control everything. Then she’d lean in real close and whisper that she’s never had a varicose vein in her life, just loud enough for my mom to hear. With her fingers crossed, of course.
Mariah Shammel is a rancher, wife and mom who lives in Hilger, MT. She has four kids, lots of dogs, cats and chickens and even more cows.
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