I had two grandmas growing up. One who I saw on a daily basis, Ruby, and one that I saw only during visits with my father twice a month. Her name was Sylvia. If I had to pick one word to describe Grandma Sylvia, it would be soft. She had soft skin, a soft body, soft grey curly hair, soft blue eyes and a voice so soft, it was almost a whisper. She was the only adult to ever read to me as a child.
Her reading room was off the kitchen of her small home. We sat in her wooden rocking chair, I on her lap, and as she rocked I could feel the subtle bumpiness of the blue woven rug beneath us. We were bathed in strips of light that came through the vertical blinds that hung on the sliding glass doors behind us. Next to us stood a large glass cabinet filled with her knickknacks; porcelain kitties, babies and angels that all shared the same look of anticipation as I did at reading time.
My favorite story was Cinderella. She read this one to me so many times but I was still just as excited climbing into her lap with that blue book the last time as I was the first. Her sweet soft voice brought the story to life and I would crinkle my nose at the evil step-mother, mouth the words “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” as she read them and clap for joy when the princess married the prince.
One day she asked, “Did you know that you are a princess, too, my sweet Sarah?”
“I am?” I asked, disbelieving but curious. She went on to tell me of my great-great-great grandmother who lived close to an Indian tribe long ago. She and the medicine man of that tribe fell in love, soon the whole tribe loved her as well. She was beautiful with blue eyes and long, curly blonde hair. When the two were married she became known as the tribe’s “princess.”
Grandma Sylvia began to tell me this story on a regular basis and even took to calling me her little princess and I believed her whole-heartedly.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned this story was used as propaganda to push the image of Anglo-Indian harmony. People started telling it as fact and soon enough it was passed down generation after generation. The fact that it was a fairytale was further verified by a genealogy test showing not a trace of Native American chromosomes in my son’s DNA. It was a nice story, though. She made me feel special at the time, which I am sure was her goal.
She never spoke of her actual family or what it was like for her growing up, who she was or where she lived. I never learned of her likes or dislikes, how she met and fell in love with my grandfather or her dreams for her life. Our story time ended when my father gave up his legal rights to me. I was able to find only a scant amount of information online about her family, and that information never tells us who people actually were.
What I learned about her, her love for me, her kind heart, her wonderful imagination, her fondness of reading and porcelain figurines, I learned during our story time. I may never know her story, but now, Grandma Sylvia is a part of mine.