Remembering Grandma

Susan Manzke
Aunt Leona Brush, Grandma Vera Brush, and Susan in the foreground, from July 1960.

Many odd things ignite old memories. Today a bird reminded me of my Grandma Brush.

Grandma Brush was my father’s mother. Unlike my Grandma Jo, we used Grandma Brush’s last name when referring to her. She immigrated from Lithuania as a teenager, coming alone, but knowing others who had gone before her.

It wasn’t easy getting Grandma Brush to talk about the old country. I think she wanted to forget the hard life she lived there. Mostly, she was proud to become a citizen of the United States and have her children born here, where they were free.

In my younger days, we visited Grandma in Calumet Park, Illinois—I guess you’d call it a suburb of Chicago. My sister and I could walk around the block to a little store and buy penny candy. Just like all the other kids who shopped there, it took us forever to make our decisions on what to buy. I don’t remember a time that the grocery store was busy, but if it was I bet kids with dimes might have driven the grocer crazy.

Eventually, a little house was built next to our house. Grandma Brush spent the last years of her life there.

My mom taught me to knit, but Grandma taught me to knit mittens—except I never really learned how to put on the thumb. Those were quiet times, sitting in her house, just the two of us, knitting. Her English was broken, but I could understand her easily.

Grandma loved to watch television. Back then television was in black and white. After dark, it would be the only light given off in her home. She would watch her programs late into the night, stopping only when the stations would sign off for the day—they don’t do that now.

Today, I listened to a killdeer calling ahead of me as I walked. This little bird reminded me of Grandma Brush.

Grandma Vera Brush at Susan’s parents' wedding in 1946.

Whenever Grandma heard a killdeer call she said, “It’s going to rain, Susan. Hear that bird? It’s saying ‘gon’na rain! gon’na rain!’ That one smart bird.”

Usually, the killdeer and grandma were right. In a few hours, rain arrived and watered our garden.

I never knew what kind of bird the 'gon’na-rai'n bird was until I moved to Wisconsin. I’m sure my grandma didn’t know what it was either. But by this time, Grandma was long gone and I couldn’t tell her what I had learned.

Still, when I hear one of those gon’na-rain birds calling, I look to the sky and think of Grandma.

Using things from nature was part of life, according to Grandma. When I ran through a patch of stinging nettle she had me go to a mud puddle and rub the mud on my legs and arms. That mud cooled my skin.

When a bee stung my hand, Grandma picked a round leaf from the lawn, mushed it up and made a poultice of it, and put it on the welt. That helped, too—later in my high school agriculture class I learned that the leaf Grandma had used was called a broadleaf plantain and many people have used it just like grandma did to help with pain and infections.

Grandma used a stick to help her walk. She also used it to guide her flock of geese around the yard. I thought she was very old, but she passed away at the age of 69 when I was 14.

Grandma Brush also had a pet canary. It was so old, it had lost all the feathers on its head. Now that was one ugly bird.

I hope a twittering bird brings back memories for you today. Thanks, Grandma for stopping by and bringing back some of my childhood.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;