Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Mentor, My Hero, My Grandmother

My Grandmother was an amazing woman. She was a fabulous cook, a wonderful seamstress, a caring mother and grandmother, a woman full of spunk and moxy. She was generous with her time and her heart. She was the glue that held our family together. 

Norma Jean Lancaster was born March 9, 1930 in a small Utah town called Crescent. Crescent doesn't even exist anymore, that's how small it was.  I knew that she had attended the University of Utah. I remember my Mom telling me that in those days, progressive Utah women went to college to meet their husbands. What I didn't know until just recently is that she was also there studying Fashion Design. My Mom told me stories about how when she was a little girl, she found sketch books where my Grandma had drawn pictures of models with beautiful clothes on them. I wish I could have seen those.

Anyway, It was there in college that she met my Grandfather, Clarence Kay Robison. They were married on September 7th, 1950. Two years later, my Mother was born. Then came two more children. My Grandmother was the textbook woman of the 50's and 60's. She cooked all the meals, kept the house, planned the holiday parties, socialized with her girlfriends. I wish I could have seen those days. I imagine her in a fabulous party dress with a martini and a cigarette, lipstick on, hair done, gossiping with the ladies. I've always had a fond place in my heart for that era.

I've said that Grandma was the glue that held our family together and no statement could be truer. Every holiday, we would all gather together to share meals and memories at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Thanksgiving was always a huge, traditional spread. Christmas would be a buffet style party. There would always be a plate of spiced apple rings. I knew they were supposed to be for everyone, but mostly, they were for me. My mother, brother and I would spend the night at their home on Christmas eve and wake up Christmas morning to a mountain of gifts under their artificial, yet super classy, white Christmas tree. Grandma would always tuck little hidden surprises into our gifts, like money hiding in a pocket of a new coat or the drawer of a new jewelry box. We'd throw our wrapping paper into the basement stairwell and Grandpa would start a fire to burn it all up. I loved climbing down the stairs through that huge pile of paper and bows.

When I was 5 or 6 years old, Grandma started making clothes for my baby dolls. At Christmas time, I would get a huge box full of all these wonderful outfits she'd made. Matching skirts, jackets, tops, dresses, bloomers,  you name it. When I was a little older she started to make Barbie clothes. Imagine how difficult it would be to produce a tiny ball gown for a doll like Barbie on your sewing machine. When I was a teenager, Grandma started making clothes for porcelain dolls. I know it was something she loved to do. I imagine she was probably sad when I grew out of the doll phase.  To this day, I still have all of those clothes. My own daughter plays with them. That is how well they were made. I look at those clothes now, and learn so much about tailoring and attention to detail.

Grandma also made clothes for me. At the time, I hated that. I hated being the only kid in school who couldn't wear name brands. It took me a long time to realize the amount of time and love it took for her to make those clothes for me. She tried so hard to make them trendy too. I remember in third grade, I had a pair of black parachute pants that she'd made. We also called them M.C. Hammer pants. I remember playing outside on a windy day and nearly flying off like a kite in those pants. I did finally have the wisdom to realize that those clothes were one of her ways of caring for me. I asked her to make a special dress for me, for a school dance. It was the only time that I went with her to pick out fabric. I picked out a dusty rose colored, moire fabric. I believe that was my first time in a fabric store. I got into trouble for wearing that dress to the dance. One of the teachers scolded me for wearing a dress that fancy to a simple school dance. But I didn't care. I loved that dress.
Time flew by and when I was 19 years old I'd made some bad decisions in life. I'd moved in with my Grandparents to get away from a bad relationship. I lived in the basement for about 6 months. I remember waking up one morning and going up stairs for breakfast to find Grandma eating a piece of cake. I thought that was the craziest thing at the time. I asked her why she was eating cake for breakfast and she said, "Because I am almost 70 and I do what I want." That was her! She was "YOLO'ing" before it was cool.

I moved away shortly after that and met the man who would become my husband. He was involved in an historical re-creation society and I wanted to impress him by making myself a French Cotehardie. I bought a pattern for the dress that was to be made with ELEVEN yards of fabric and cut on the bias. Until that time, I had only sewn small projects and never anything from a pattern. I didn't even know how to read a pattern. As I sat on the floor, nearly buried under all that fabric, trying to sort out the pattern, almost in tears I decided to call my Grandma for help. I told her what I was doing and her response was shocked silence. I informed her that I didn't even know what a selvage was and she burst into laughter. Somehow, even though we were hundreds of miles apart, she helped me through that project.

DH(who was still DBF at the time) and I flew down to Utah on September 10th, 2001 so that I could introduce him to my family. We stayed in my old basement room. We woke up on the morning of the 11th to find the country in the midst of that horrible disaster. I was grateful to be with my family during that terrifying time. I remember Grandpa saying, "Well, we're at war." and Grandma's response was, "Yep. What would you like for breakfast." They'd lived through some terrible times already. It wasn't that they didn't care, it was that they were seasoned to it, in a way.

 A few months later my Grandmother had a stroke. She spent some time in the hospital and some time in a care facility, but ultimately my Grandfather took her home to care for her. She was paralyzed on one side and had a difficult time with speech. I was devastated when she got sick. I wanted to do something for her, but I was living far away. I decided to make her a doll. I made a small doll with red hair and even made a little outfit for her. When she got it, she named it Rebecca. She told my mom that the doll looked like the gal who was helping my Grandpa care for her.

DH and I got married on September 13, 2003. We flew to Las Vegas for our Honeymoon and on the way there we had a 2 hour layover in Salt Lake City, where my Grandparents lived. I remember wishing that we could have left the airport to go and visit them. I hadn't seen Grandma since she'd gotten sick. On October 2, 2003 I received a call from my Aunt that Grandma had passed. I hung up the phone and wailed for an hour. I felt so guilty that I hadn't been able to say goodbye. My husband has a very different way of dealing with death. He told me I shouldn't be sad. She was in a better place. He said, "Don't worry. She'll come back as a dragonfly." There was no reason for him to say that and it was very unlike him to say such a thing, but somehow it was very comforting.

My Mom and I drove down to SLC to help Grandpa with the house and the funeral arrangements. A lot of our family had gathered together for the funeral so it was like a big reunion. Even though she was gone, Grandma was still bringing us all together. Mormon families traditionally have a funeral and a big feast called a wake so that everyone can get a chance to pay their respects. It was a long process of grieving and remembering. I met so many cousins and friends of the family. It was amazing to see so many people brought together in her memory. When we finally laid her to rest in the cemetery, I felt like I didn't have anymore tears to cry. I sang a botched up job of Amazing Grace as they lowered her casket. I sat down next to my mom and the next thing we knew there was this HUGE beautiful dragonfly, flying around her grave. There was no water anywhere nearby so it was unusual to have a dragonfly there at the cemetery. I had told my mom what DH had said about the dragonfly and we both burst into tears of joy. Every time we see an out of place dragonfly now we say, "Hi Grandma."

Since my Grandmothers passing, I have tried to take on Grandma's role. Family dinners sort of became my thing. Bringing everyone together for the holidays, cooking a big meal, I always feel like I am channeling Grandma. I have had to self teach pretty much everything I've learned about sewing, cooking, crafting, parenting. But every time I have a success I feel like Grandma is watching over me, guiding my hand and laughing at my mistakes. This time of year is exceptionally difficult because the anniversary of her death is close by. Its been ten years since the world lost a great woman and our family lost the glue that bound us together. I am using her lessons daily to create that bonded feeling for my own little family.

Every time I help my daughter dress her dollies up in one of the items Grandma made, I get a little bit sad that I was never able to tell her how much I appreciated all of her hard work. I hope that when I am making new doll clothes for my daughter and for other little girls that Grandma is getting the message that I truly loved all of those personal touches and I've learned so much from her.

I can tell that my emotions are making it very difficult for me to finish this blog post. So I'll end it now by putting this out there. I love you Grandma! My little Bug would have loved you so much! I am so grateful for all of the lessons you've taught me. I hope I've made you proud by following in your footsteps. Now, I'm going to go eat a piece of cake in your honor.


  1. Awe. You made me cry. This is so incredibly sweet and touching. I think your Grandma would be incredibly proud of you. I know I am.

  2. Oh Lauren... a beautiful tribute to your Grandmother. It brought tears and smiles to me. I see so much of her in you! What a beautiful thing for your husband to say upon her passing - now you have delightful little visits from her in the form of dragonflies. She knows how much you love her.

  3. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL Lauren!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Thank you everyone. I realize this was a very personal post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and to appreciate it. ♥ to you all!