Friday, September 11, 2009


I think I have mentioned before that I hardly knew any of my grandparents. My grandpa Scott Dobbins died in 1917, when my dad was only eight years old. My grandpa Byrd W. Ryland died in 1934, the year before I was born. My grandmother Maud McConnell Dobbins died in 1940, when I was not yet 5 years old.

My remaining grandmother, Jessie Davis Ryland, died in 1947, shortly after my twelfth birthday. So this is the only grandparent I ever knew. Grandma Ryland lived in Long Beach with her married daughter, my aunt Marie, her husband Sam, my cousin Shirley and my grandma's youngest daughter, my aunt Margie, who was still a teenager. Whenever we went over to see grandma, what I see in my mind's eye is of kids playing in the house or out in the yard. I never "see" grandma in the picture. I'm sure she was sitting talking to the adults while we kids, my cousin, my sister and I were all busy with kid stuff. I do not remember my grandma in a "special," singular way. Except that when I do try to recollect a vision of her, it always comes to mind exactly as a picture in my baby book or in a photo album my mom had. I don't seem to have an independent recollection of her.

This maybe is one reason why I have worked so hard to make myself a grandma of a good sort and one that will be remembered by my two youngest grandchildren, Olivia and Justine. I figure that they probably will not have independent recollections of me until they are at least 12 or 13. Actually, I guess it is important to me because I have always felt kind of left out of the pleasures of having a grandma who loved me.

But the other day I realized that I do have some tiny recollections of her that do not appear in any photograph. First, I remember how when I sat on her lap and looked at her face, her cheeks were very soft and fuzzy -- and they smelled like powder. I can remember feeling them and they were warm to the touch, and then my hand would smell like her cheek.

I also remembered that she wore what I guess were called "pince nez" glasses. These had no earpieces and were held on the bridge of her nose by little spring-loaded clips between the two nose pads. Hooked to one corner of the glasses was a long chain. If grandma wasn't wearing the glasses, the chain was connected to a round clip that she wore on her dress like a broach. She could pull the chain out when she put the glasses on, and she could, with a little bit of pressure, tug on it and it would rewind and leave the glasses dangling on her shoulder just under the broach. In the picture above you can see the round clip on her right shoulder. I can remember always wanting to pull the glasses and see them come down, but of course she didn't allow us to make it into a toy.

The other thing I remember about her is how her crepe dresses felt. Crepe was a soft, textured material. It draped beautifully and didn't wrinkle a lot. In my grandma's era the older women didn't wear cotton housedresses or pantsuits or slacks; when they went out of the house they usually wore simple crepe dresses.

In 1952 I took a summer job at Libby's sportswear shop on 4th street right behind the old Sav-On Drugstore at 4th and Pine in Long Beach. It was a small, privately owned business. There were three departments in the store. When you walked in the door, to the right was where the hats were sold (old lady hats!). To the left was where the sweaters were sold (sweater sets in those days). And adjacent to the sweaters were the wool skirts that matched the sweaters. Then across the back of the store was the women's clothing. For the most part, they only sold crepe dresses. And we had lots of customers for those crepe dresses. The owner, Hal Ash, made sure we understood that there was a no-return policy on black or navy blue crepe dresses, which was his solution for preventing women from buying a dress for a funeral, wearing it and returning it the next day, saying they didn't like the way it fit. So I know crepe dresses were still around in the early 1950s - but at some point they disappeared.

But when I think of my grandma, I think of her in crepe dresses, pince nez glasses and with soft powdery cheeks. So I guess I do have some kind of memory of her. It is a good memory, and even if it isn't a picture of her whole life, it is, at least, something more than a picture than hangs on my wall. It's my grandma.

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