Although my mom almost never wears makeup or even lipstick, I think she’s one of the classiest women I’ve ever known. Class doesn’t necessarily come with cosmetics, money, fancy clothes or other adornments. It also comes with what you do with what you’ve got for the greater good, and especially for your children.
Born in 1942 and raised in a rural Higganum, Connecticut, Sonja Deloris Granat grew up in a small farmstead with her parents, four siblings, and Swedish, immigrant grandparents. They weren’t dirt poor, but I remember mom saying each child received just one gift at Christmas. On the farm, they grew and sometimes sold their own produce, meats, and homemade cheese.
At an early age, mom loved nature and influenced by her grandmother, she learned about God. She prayed once as a five year old to see a turtle. When she stepped outside there was one right by her feet! Mom recalls loving to go to elementary school, though she was a bit of a wallflower throughout her high school years. After graduation, she and one of her sisters commuted to Central Connecticut State College where mom pursued her bachelor’s in elementary education. Her college girlfriend introduced mom to her brother, whom she married in 1963.
While mom worked several years after my sister and I were born to earn her master’s degree in elementary education, twists and turns in life prevented her from teaching in a public-school setting. She did, though, use her skills and passion to lead girls and boys through scouts and 4-H. She taught Sunday School and was superintendent of Sunday School for many years at her Methodist church.
As I look back, I see how mom did an exemplary job raising four kids in the lean years before and after my parent’s divorce in 1977. We always had enough food. Though we often wore hand-me-downs until we were old enough to work to buy more trendier clothes, mom kept what we had clean and mended. But she gave us so much more than this.
Mom always read to us. As toddlers, she read Greek and Roman literature as she balanced quality time with us and studying for her Master’s. More age-appropriate reading matter included “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” by A.A. Milne, and Johnny Gruelle’s, “Raggedy Ann Stories” and “Raggedy Andy Stories.” She turned us on to Aesop’s Fables, Bible stories, and Walt Disney stories in books and record sets. On Saturdays, she drove us to (Middletown) Junior Matinee’s to see live productions of Peter and the Wolf and other children’s plays.
Working as a library assistant, she’d come home with the latest children’s books. She introduced us to Judy Blume. I devoured “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?”, “Blubber” and especially, “Deenie,” a girl I longed to befriend.
Mom co-led a wonderful Girl Scout day camp in our town in the summers. We’d learn crafts like sand candle making, macrame, ice cream making. We’d have haunted houses in the cabin!
Mom found affordable fun. We camped at state parks—-Hammonassett Beach on Long Island Sound, and Wells State Park in Massachusetts. We’d stop by Sturbridge Village, an 1830s living museum, and visit Aunt Edna and Uncle Ward on their working dairy farm.
She inspired us with the Teddy Bear’s Picnic (melody by American composer John Walter Bratton in 1907, and lyrics by Irish song writer Jimmy Kennedy in 1932). We often picnicked at roadside parks like Seven Falls, or at Haddam Meadows on the Connecticut River.
Some of the best times of times was going to the local drive-in! She would pop tons of popcorn and mix up a jug of off-brand Kool-aid. We’d pile in the back of the old blue station wagon and catch the latest kid movies—-Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Herby Rides Again!
Through all her many trials, mom always kept her faith and keeps her faith. She took us to Sunday School every Sunday while we lived under her roof. Sometimes, to my chagrin, it meant having to leave early on weekend camp trips with the Parents Without Partners Group and our teen friends. Growing up, mom would read Luke 2 every Christmas morning before we opened our presents.
Mom also could not and does not stand for swearing or even saying the word “fart.” It’s kind of amazing Mom was/is this way with her own father, the king of “Pull my finger” as a lifelong influence. Trying to instill class in us, she’d instruct, “Say excuse me, when you blow a poop.” As we got older, we’d laugh at this substitute for the common expression, but something stuck with me later with my own kids. They were raised to say, “pass gas”, not “fart.”
Mom loved her crafts and was quite the seamstress. She made Brenda and I matching skirts, vests and jumpers. Mom made my senior prom gown in 1983 and later wedding gown in 1988. As I look at wedding pictures, I am still so in awe of the wonderful job she did on this elaborate and gorgeous garment. I believe it was the best item she had ever sewn.
Mom was front and center the whole time Sean was in Desert Storm and when our babies were born. She was gleeful, blowing bubbles and was such source of support and encouragement. Mom and second husband Ernie were always so happy to babysit and even took our kids on a cross country trip. She instilled her love of nature and fun in her grandchildren. She introduced them all to the joys of swimming. As toddlers she’d encourage them to, “kick-kick-kick!” and “reach-reach-reach!” as she played with them in her above ground pool.
Today, at nearly eighty, I still see so much class in my mom. She is less ambulatory than her early days, but I still see her classiness in motion.
She starts her day with one of her daily devotional readings. She moves on to her daily crossword and jumble in the Hartford Courant. Then she moves on to her novel reading. Mom often has two or more books going at once, in totally different genres from her extensive book collection. Kate Douglas Wiggin’s, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” and Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” were two titles she recently bounced back and forth reading. She’s on John Steinbeck’s “The Pastures of Heaven,” right now.
Mom still plays a mean game of Florida Rummy and is a formidable Scrabble opponent. She crochets Afghans and can whip up a new dishcloth in a half hour. Mom looks forward to celebrating Christmas Eve with an authentic Swedish smorgasbord and glogg at her house. Mom keeps up with the goings-on of her grown grandchildren. She and I still have meaningful discussions about faith and life. She treasures when family visit, especially when all four of her unique children are there together.