I used to be terrified of thunderstorms. I was convinced the lighting would get me, and that I was especially vulnerable in my upstairs bedroom. I refused to go to my room when it was storming, and I rarely went to sleep until the storm had moved on. I would hold back tears as best I could, but then I would catch a glimpse of lighting or hear a crack of thunder over the television and start bawling. Even once the rain and clouds had moved on, it still took my parents at least a half hour to convince me it had stopped; I was safe now.
Grandma Dar is currently 83 and is incredibly resourceful and wise and generous. She had a total of five kids in the ’60s and ’70s; she had 2 girls, then a boy, then 2 more girls. The middle child and her only son was my Grandpa Gary.
So Grandma Dar had five kids, four of which were girls. These women, my great-aunts, are as different as any four siblings can be. Some have been married for 25 years or more, and some have had as many as 7 husbands. Some were housewives, some have had very successful careers. But they all had children, Dar’s grandchildren. And a good number of Dar’s grandchildren had children. Grandma Dar currently has over 45 grand- and great-grandchildren, and her second great-great-grandchild will soon be born. Bringing us to a grand total of over 50 people that wouldn’t exist on this planet without Grandma Dar.
Most people grow up in patriarchal families headed by a sole male figure whose name everyone shares, whose name and bloodline is very important to carry on. Sons who can keep the family name going are sought after and even preferred. In defiance of this patriarchal structure, my mom’s family is very much a matriarchy run by women and headed by the sole matriarch: Grandma Dar. There are many different family names, and characteristics that might be from a father’s or a mother’s bloodline, but neither are preferred. It just is. You might have a Reinhardt nose, or a Keefer laugh, or Cady height. Babies were babies, and they were all wonderful blessings no matter how they came into existence or who they belonged to.
Grandma Dar built all that. Not only is she responsible for the mere existence of over 50 humans, but she also helped raise every single one of us. She visits parents with their newborn babies and she finds a way to come back into the child’s life when they’re old enough to remember her, too. Grandma Dar is everyone’s favorite and she remembers every single one of us.
The summer after my brother was born, Grandma Dar came to stay with us like she does when new babies are born. In the Midwest we have snow in the winter, and storms in the summer. So of course the night my parents decide to go out and leave the new baby and I with Grandma, it storms. We had this big picture window in our living room at the time, facing the river across the street. Our couch was backed up against the big window, so it was the perfect little perch to watch everything going on outside whether it was summer parades or waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. But this particular night, Grandma was determined to break my fear of thunderstorms.
She didn’t tell me that storms were about God’s wrath, or some mythical battle being fought in the sky. Instead she told me that with so many clouds up there, sometimes they bump into each other. Sometimes it got pretty loud, but that was when two really big clouds bumped into each other. And that’s all storms were – the skies just got a little crowded. When you’re a kid, and you start personifying these clouds, it becomes kind of fun to watch the clouds move around like bumper cars. So from that big picture window, we watched the clouds bump into each other. I cried a little less and maybe even giggled my infectious girly giggle. Most importantly, I eventually fell asleep during that storm, dreaming bumpy-cloud dreams. Now it was just the dog my parents had to worry about during storms.
Grandma Dar’s commitment to family is unremarkable and often unheard of. She didn’t just build this family and then sit back from a distance, living her own life. No, her family is her life. Her one-of-a-kind legacy will continue to live on within over fifty different people, with over fifty different memories of her.
Some people build businesses or political empires. Grandma Dar built her own kind of empire.