Grandma Nor


My mother’s mother came to live with us when I was about sixteen. She had always been part of my life. Every Tuesday, when she could drive, she would come to the house for my mom to do her hair. And I would paint her nails.

She was a tiny woman, probably weighed only about 100 pounds and she smoked BelAir cigarettes and drank coffee. She had skin that was as dark as mine and I always wondered if there were any Black people in their family tree. I also always thought that she was very elegant.

She taught me French. She had long finger nails that I would paint bright red. She worked at a high end department store in downtown Buffalo. She taught me etiquette and how to walk and stand properly.

Grandma Nor used to tell me stories of her family that descended from French royalty. Everyone had always said she was crazy, but when I later did their genealogy, I found out it was true. I should have believed it because she always spoke French to me. Not that she had to be from royalty, but she had to have had contact with someone French to know the language as well as she did. Turns out it was her grandmother, Maude Almeda Cutway, that spoke French to her.

My Grandma Nor was an interesting person. I never realized how interesting until I got older and looked back on history and women’s rights. She got divorced in the 50’s and owned a bar. And she smoked cigarettes. Such a rebel for a woman back then!

She also lived in a big old haunted house in Pike, New York. That house was the creepiest house I ever remembering being in. They even wrote an article about it being haunted when she lived there.

After the Pike house, she co owned the Royal Ednor in Hinsdale, New York. This was a camping resort and she was the cook in the kitchen. I loved to go there and she would make me fried shrimp. A lot of fun holidays and summer camp outs were spent there.

After that she lived in a cabin by a lake that her brother had built for her.

And then she got sick. She had Alzheimer’s and Emphysema and needs a breathing machine. So she had to come live with us.

This was an interesting dynamic because my mother did not like her mother very much. She would say that all the time, that she loved her mother, but she did not like her. But now that she was sick, she had to take care of her.

I could understand my mother’s point of view. Her mother had not really been a strong “mothering” figure to her growing up. My grandmother was very thin and my mother wasn’t and apparently my grandmother criticized her weight. I could definitely understand the devastating effects of a critical mother.

And my grandmother, being a typical independent person bristled at being told what to do, when to do it, in addition to her memory issues and just the general pains of getting old were taxing on her.

So it was a very tense time once again in the house.

I felt definitely like I had to pick sides and I know that because of the dynamics of our home, it would not have been in my best interest to oppose my mother. So I grew resentful of my grandmother living with us.

I even disliked her cat. And I love cats. But for some strange reason that I still can’t grasp, I didn’t like my grandmother’s cat. And she loved it. It jumped out under a truck one night while we were eating dinner. I saw the whole thing happen and could only watch in horror as my grandmother, frail and sick, hardly able to breathe, ran outside to see to her dying cat. It breaks my heart that her cat died. And I hate myself for being so hateful to something she loved so much.

I do know it is difficult to care for an elderly parent. It must be especially hard caring for a parent who wasn’t really there for you growing up.

And I know it’s probably hard to have to rely on your child for everything. But I wish my grandmother’s last years would have been different. I wish that she would have felt loved and appreciated instead of feeling like she was a burden.

She died my second year in college and I don’t think my mom had a funeral for her. They didn’t come get me from college for it. But I remember thinking that I know Grandma was glad that she was dead. She had grown tired of living. And she wasn’t very old, only about 68. But that was all she wanted to live.

It wasn’t until years later that I saw my mother cry about her mother dying. I think it was more from a feeling of what could have or should have been than really missing her. But I’m just guessing.

All I know is that she was a big part of my life and especially these last couple years in high school and I couldn’t go on to finish out my time in Rushford without talking about her. My grandma never made me feel different for being adopted. She never made me feel different for being Black.

Ironically, it was her brother who opposed my mother adopting me. My grandmother told me it was because their father was a member of the KKK. But apparently his views didn’t affect her. I am forever grateful to her for that.

I tell my kids about her all the time. My oldest daughter has her name- LaNor. She loved yellow roses. We have a place in our ancestral altar for her and often give her coffee or a yellow rose.



About sjwoods318

Mother of six children - five girls and one boy; wife; community organizer, family chauffeur, philosopher, trans-racial adoptee, Deadhead, person of mixed racial heritage, artist, poet, writer who loves to swim, read, and run around with my family.
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