Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma

When I began examining the piles of memorabilia I received from my cousin after my grandparents died, I discovered their memoirs and love letters from the late 1880s. The piles of newspaper articles, diaries, and photographs, led to even more gems. Hours of treasure hunting lay before me.

Grandma Palmer’s cookbook caught my eye. Worn out, but still alive it was full of all sorts of recipes and notes about homemade medicine concoctions and handy household hints a mother of four needed in-order to survive the rigors of child raising and housekeeping. She knew the Treatment for Worms and wrote it in pen, with a footnote: This prescription is used by U.S. Army Medical Faculty in the Philippines.

Brevity was one of her virtues. Warts disappear if you take garlic-parsley tablets. To make pretty walls, put pumice in the paint. Take saffron tea to clean kidneys. When I read her Recipe for Producing Eggs, written with a practiced hand, I had to laugh. I never thought chickens needed help, but I suppose they did.

Grandpa John called Grandma, Nannie, although her name was of Nancy Jane.  I noticed on their 1891 marriage license he’d tried to erase her name and write Nannie above it, but she crossed that out and corrected it…and him. She also assisted him when he became a doctor on horseback, mixing and labeling the medicines and inserting them into his saddlebags. Nannie ran their mercantile store when Grandpa John attended law school in another state, and she never once refused to help a neighbor who was in trouble.

Mothering meant no one was excluded from her love and care, not even when her sister Daisy Chester died, and she and Grandpa took in their 10-year-old nephew, Jesse, and raised him as their son until he joined the army. She and Grandpa also welcomed their oldest daughter Burleigh back into their home after she was divorced. Her two sons were like little brothers to my dad–the youngest Palmer child, and only boy.

Nannie was 70 years old and grey haired when I was born. Reading her memoirs gave me the gift of seeing her as she saw herself as a child, and as a young wife and mother—the grandmother I’d never known. How happy it made me to discover something we had in common: She’d been a teacher and so was I.

Nannie never talked about her past but always seemed interested in everyone else’s life.  She died when I was 13. Hers was the first funeral I ever attended; I was overwhelmed by all those people crowding into the funeral parlor, saddened by the loss of a great lady who died at 83. 

Among her papers I found a Mothers’ Day telegram she had saved, dated 1942. It was from Jesse.

To Mrs. J.W. Palmer, 901 South Vermont, Sedalia, Missouri


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