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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Writing a Letter (handwritten correspondence) (10/21/10)

TITLE: Patty's Legacy
By Heidi Wallenborn


My great-grandmother wrote letters to me when I was eight years old.

I relished her written words as much as I did her company.

My 73-year-old Grandma Patty’s short, white curls framed her angular face and high cheekbones. A slash of red on her smiling lips added character. Her blue eyes twinkled at me while the rest of her spelled mischief. She was not a typical old lady. She was 65 when I was born.

My favorite photograph of her is set in her 1950s Seattle, Washington living room. She is sitting on a piano bench languidly crossing her transparent silk-covered legs. She wears a champagne-colored, knee-high satin cocktail dress with full skirt, capped sleeves and a square neckline. High-heeled pumps adorn her feet. White, cat-eye glasses beautify her face above a poppy-red smile. A cigarette filter makes the white tobacco-stick seem longer between two red-nailed fingertips.

Grandma Patty, born in December 1896, called me “dahling” in a husky, whisky-tinged voice. I learned she played the accordion, or “squeeze-box,” for sailors in honky-tonks returning from WWI--while she awaited her first of five husbands to come home. I have photos of her in a variety of early 1900s swimsuits and cheeky, fun-loving poses and outfits. Perusing them, I smile. She was my fun-loving grandma who loved me.

My first-ever letter was from Grandma Patty. My family moved to Heppner, Oregon from Longview, Washington in about 1969. My two brothers and I were newly adopted by our step-father. At that age, I wasn’t sure what that meant--only that I had a new daddy and I couldn’t see my other one. I was sad, but adjusted, as children do. Not long afterward I got a letter in the mail from Grandma Patty.

When I close my eyes, I can see the pristine white envelope with my name and address written in blue-ink, with an old-lady scrawl. I ran to my room and carefully unfolded the precious letter. It was the first of many. I don’t remember what she said.

I do remember writing back to her right away and telling her what I was reading at the time--my first ever library book, “Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day.” I wrote to her about how proud I was that I had a library card. Shortly afterward, my teacher spoke to us about having pen pals. I already had one in Grandma Patty.

Perhaps what meant most to me was that she listened. She wrote letters, responded to things I said, childish or not. I never felt like a burden or a bother, and she never betrayed my confidences.

Maybe that’s part of the reason I find it so easy to talk to God. Grandma Patty, ribald as she was, set a good pattern in this child’s ability to talk to a trusted adult. It was a smooth transition—speaking to her, then speaking to God. I find it ironic that within a few months of her first letter to me I was introduced to Him at summer vacation Bible school.

Grandma Patty and I kept up a handwritten correspondence for 15 years. Her regular communication gave me confidence in writing day-to-day events that perhaps no one else would be interested in. It also taught me the responsibility of answering messages in a timely manner. I learned etiquette in asking about her life and activities because she always asked questions about me and my little girl-to-young-womanhood-life.

My great-grandma was a unique woman. Out of all the adults around me, she was the only one who took time to get down to my level and enjoy my company.

I think of the Bible verse in Matthew 19: 14, when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. “

I don’t know much about her faith; I don’t remember any conversations. But Grandma Patty in her way showed me Jesus. She wrote handwritten letters to me until she died in 1983, at nearly 88 years old.

Time with my renegade great-grandma was about learning how to play Las Vegas one-card solitaire while we sat cross-legged on the floor. She taught me how to laugh wholeheartedly. She taught me how to correctly apply lipstick. But most importantly, he taught me how to communicate with the written word.

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This article has been read 442 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lollie Hofer10/29/10
I love your great-grandma Patty. Thank you for allowing us a glimpse of your childhool and this remarkable woman. She does sound like a fun Grandma. I like how your story fit well with this week's topic.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/30/10
What a beautiful tribute to a lovely great grandmother. The memories you shared are precious.
Philippa Geaney 11/01/10
What a tribute. How much goodness a person can communicate simply by being good.
Jan Ackerson 11/01/10
This is very good!

I'd have liked more about Grandma Patty--maybe some snippets from her letters that show us more of her spunky personality.

Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 11/04/10
Congratulations for placing 7th in level 3!
Nancy Sullivan 11/09/10
Congratulations on your recognition. Your great-grandmother is honored through your memories of her.
Beth LaBuff 11/16/10
I so enjoyed getting to meet this colorful woman. What a great lady, she inspires me. [Would others in your family like to read this?] Thanks for sharing her story.