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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Teacher (10/26/06)

TITLE: A Ladder and A Paintbrush
By Carla Feagans


She was “a character as only Iowa could grow them.” That’s what the newspaper man said anyway. I figured that was about the best way I’d ever heard to describe Gertrude, my grandma. Folks ‘round here knew her well, she kept them all on their toes. If anyone tried to shortchange her or give her the run-around, she’d give them a piece or two of her mind, and then some.

She could be gruff, a little rough around the edges, but she had a heart of gold. Kids especially melted her heart. She raised all five of her own kids and ran the farm, and still found a way to put them through college, each and every one. Herself too. She even got a master’s degree and taught school for 30 years.

A few years before she died, the city newspaper columnist was doing a series of articles he later made into a book, all about the people of Iowa. Sure enough, Gertrude not only made it into the book, she was a whole chapter. How tickled she was when that book came out.

He talked about the corsage he gave her when he took her to lunch for an interview. She was so proud of that corsage! Put it in the refrigerator each night and wore it every day for a week. Finally, a friend commented one day on how beautiful her corsage was and how the flowers looked so real you couldn’t even tell they were artificial.

He also told the story of the first bar Gertrude ever went into, down in Arizona. She’d never gone to a bar before, and never would have dreamed of going into one, except it was the only place in town showing the Iowa vs. Iowa State game. Never come between Gertrude and her football. She tried to get her gentleman friend to come with her, but he told her bars were full of “pickpockets and prostitutes”, so he wasn’t going. Undeterred, she took a full half hour in the parking lot to work up the nerve to walk in. Approaching the hostess stand, she was more than relieved to discover it wasn’t a bar after all, but a family restaurant.

And then there was the barn. Grandma loved her horses, and she loved painting the barn. Some folks need all sorts of fancy ways to relieve stress, but all she needed was a paintbrush, ladder, and a big barn wall. Whether it needed another coat of paint or not, up she’d climb on the rickety old ladder, paint brush in hand. Even when her health was failing, she’d drag her oxygen tank up that ladder, just so she could get up there and work out her frustrations.

No matter where she was or what she was doing, my grandma was a teacher, through and through. She loved to learn, and she loved to help others learn even more. One of the best things she ever taught my momma, and of course that meant I learned it too, was “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Lots of people say that, I found out, but not many people actually live it. She was always ready to help others, to find the teaching moment in any situation, and she rarely took offense (unless, of course, you gave her the run-around). If a child stared at her in the store, pulling her oxygen tank and wearing a nasal cannula, she was far from offended. Instead, she’d stop and take the time to explain to the child what the oxygen tank was and why she needed it.

My grandma taught many kids many things, but the most important things she taught weren’t what she said, but what she did. She taught me to live an authentic life, to value education, and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. She taught me that it’s far more important to help others and reach out to those in need than to worry about your own needs and wants. She taught me that the best way to teach others about God’s love is not to preach to them, but to show them in how you live your own life. And she taught me that you don’t have to spend lots of money or go to a fancy gym to find stress relief, all you need is a ladder, a paint brush, and a big wall.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Donna Haug11/02/06
That's quite the plucky grandma! I had a good chuckle about the corsage ... and lugging the oxygen tank up the ladder.
You shared some very good lessons to learn!
Marilyn Schnepp 11/05/06
A great story of memories of Grandma. Extremely well written and an enjoyable read. thanks for sharing.