Granddad was a typical Victorian patriarch. He expected to rule his household and for the most part, he did. But, however innocent and docile she was as a girl, Grandma developed a feisty streak as she grew more experienced. One of my favorite stories about Grandma well illustrates her methods.
The pincherry tree
Not far from the farmhouse there was a pincherry tree. For those unfamiliar with pincherries, they are a very small fruit, no bigger than currants, and not at all easy to pick. They are also not much good for anything but feeding birds and making jelly. But one day as he came in for dinner, Granddad noticed a fine crop of fruit on the pincherry tree and demanded that they be picked that very day before they went to the birds. Grandma considered pincherries belonged to the birds and also hated working in the hot sun. So once Granddad was back in the field, she got an ax from the wood pile, chopped down the tree, and hauled it into the shade where the children could help her strip the tree of its tiny fruits. Muriel was still by the tree when Granddad came in for supper. “Who chopped down the tree?” he asked. “Mum.” “Why?” “To pick the pincherries.” And nothing else was ever said about it.
The Eaton’s catalogue
In a similar vein, one year as the depression deepened and money was becoming scarce, Granddad decided that before he handed over the cash to pay for an order of household necessities from the Eaton’s catalogue, he would first look over the list to see if anything could be removed. He removed two items and gave her cash to cover the rest of the order. Grandma, furious because she believed everything on the list was a necessity, decided on a strategem to be sure she got everything she needed.
The next time, after listing all she needed, she looked through the catalogue some more and added two more items before giving the list to the ‘boss’. He quickly stroked off two items, the very ones she had added and gave her the cash for the rest of the order. She got everything she actually wanted. But Granddad was no fool. After going through this routine a few times, he began simply looking at the total and handing her the cash. When she asked if he did not want to look over the list first, he merely shook his head and waved her away as he went back to reading his newspaper.
The collision of devotion and friendship
One other story remains with me about Grandma’s determination to do things her way. Grandma was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, a sect which sometimes practices the internal discipline of shunning a member whose behaviour has been unacceptable. Once when she was about 60, her local Kingdom Hall declared one of their members persona non grata and called on other members to shun him. A few days later, when she and Muriel met him in the street, Grandma greeted him as usual. Muriel remonstrated with her, but Grandma replied: “He’s been a friend for 30 years, and I won’t pass him by on the street without saying hello, no matter what anyone says.”