Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Grandmother Mystique

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Paula Gail Benson. A legislative attorney and former law librarian, Paula has published short stories in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable (, Kings River Life (, Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink), and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media, released January 2014). Her latest, “Apple’s Lure,” will appear in the July/August 2014 issue of the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. She regularly blogs with others about writing mysteries on Writers Who Kill, at Her personal blog is Little Sources of Joy at, and her website is She’s looking forward to serving on the Steering Committee for the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and we're already getting great ideas from her.

I’m not a grandmother, but I’ve been mistaken for one. Early in the year, I was having coffee and checking my iPad at a McDonald’s near a local high school. A young man working there approached me to ask if I knew Stephanie. When I said no, he replied, “You look just like her grandmother.”

That took me a moment to process.

I’m old enough to be a grandmother. I have cousins and friends who are grandmothers, and they love the experience. But I’ve never been married and have no children. Grandchildren are not on my horizon. At least not for myself.

The young man seemed so happy to have made the association. He smiled as if he really liked Stephanie’s grandmother.

I responded, “I’m sorry.” But, as soon as the words left my mouth, I wondered if I should have said “thank you”?

My father’s parents died before I was born. I grew up assuming that everyone had only one set of grandparents, not two or more. I remember my maternal grandmother as tall and slender with long white hair she kept in a bun. Because she had diabetes, she was fragile and not active. She loved watching daytime soap operas. Her beautiful maiden name was Leora Blankenship. I always thought I would use it as a pseudonym if I wrote romance novels.

When my mother was expecting me, my grandmother became ill and was hospitalized. Mother’s brother called to say she needed come home immediately, and Mother had to admit she couldn’t travel because she was pregnant. I’m told Grandmother’s health improved quickly when she learned of her impending fourth grandchild.

At birth, I was a preemie who spent time in an incubator before coming home. Grandmother insisted on making a long trip to visit me. When I was twelve, she passed away after two years as a widow. Although our time together was short, I still remember and feel the bond of her love.

Even though I’m not a grandmother, I’ve written about a grandmother figure in a short story, “Confidence
in the Family,” in Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink). Mona, a waitress who becomes owner of a pizza shop, raises Fred, an orphan whose records show the pizza shop as his last known address. Mona is a con artist who helps the adult Fred present himself as the long-lost heir of a wealthy woman, supposedly Fred’s grandmother. The problem is that there may be more reality to Fred’s con than Fred knows. Mona worries that she has lost him forever, but, without admitting the truth, finds a way to remain close while not denying him a wonderful life.

I have a dear friend who delights in sharing the world with her granddaughter. They have mutual interests and enthusiasms. My friend taught her granddaughter a lot about history and values. In return, her granddaughter lets my friend view the world through a young person’s eyes; helps program her TV and computer; and tells her which seemingly harmless words now have obscene slang connotations and should not be used in polite society.

After being mistaken for a grandmother, I began thinking about why that was a compliment. Here are my conclusions:

(1) Memories of grandmothers are usually positive images, reflecting a person’s home or heritage or something in which they take pride.

(2) Grandmothers are associated with wisdom, experience, and necessary background information not otherwise apparent or revealed by parents, especially those embarrassing moments from childhood that parents like to forget.

(3) Even if grandmothers are strong-willed, their aims are generally benevolent. Consider as examples the grandmother characters in two recent mystery novels, one who becomes a suspect in Shelley Costa’s You Cannoli Die Once and the other who becomes a murder victim in Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Boil.

(4) While parents may be overwhelmed by work and keeping track of family members’ obligations, grandparents can be more relaxed. They have time to consider grandchildren as individuals, not just parts of the whole.

So, the next time a young person approaches me and asks if I’m someone’s grandmother, I hope I can say, “No, but I’ll bet that lady is pretty special.” That’s not patting myself on the back too much, is it?

Story Summaries:

A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media, January 2014)–anthology available from Dark Oak Press—“Ghost of a Chance”—Heck, a pirate first mate with a treacherous captain, spies a ghost ship following their vessel. Will the ghost ship prove to be Heck’s ultimate damnation or possible redemption?
Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink)–anthology available on Amazon—“Confidence in the Family”—In a contest between two con-artists, who will triumph in demonstrating their true family feelings?


Kaye George said...

Very helpful, that part about updating-word education. My granddaughter, when 4, was always telling me, "That's an inappropriate word, Grammaw."

That's a lovely post,Paula. Thank you from this grandmother.

Polly Iyer said...

Having just become a grandmother for the first time three months ago, I hope I live up to all those positive attributes you've given us. Actually, since this title comes to me late in life, I hope I live long enough to enjoy my sweet Princess Ella. Nice blog post, Paula.

Sandra de Helen said...

Grandchildren are a gift to women. A chance to be the person you meant to be with your child, but were too young and inexperienced to have accomplished that. If grandparenting is a person's desire, it can be the road to redemption, to forgiveness, to immortality.

Judy Alter said...

Paula, love your positive thoughts about grandmothers. I'm a happy one of seven, only one of whom lives close and spends a lot of time with me. Polly, grandmotherhood came late to me too--I was 60 when my first was born--after that for a few years I thought my children were rabbits. Yes, Sandra, grandchildren are a gift. And yes Kaye, an eight-year old still tells me, "Inappropriate, Juju."

Susan O'Brien said...

I really enjoyed this blog post, Paula. It was so touching to read about your grandmother. And I agree that her maiden name is just beautiful!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Judy, thanks so much for this opportunity to guest post. Kaye, Polly, Sandra, and Judy, I hope you truly enjoy each moment with your grandchildren. It's a very special relationship. Congratulations to each of you.

Anonymous said...

Well neither am I a Grandmother or a Grandfather but I hope in some small way I help to mold my Nephews, Niece and Great Nephews in a positive way. I love them all so much and they show me their love. I particularly remember the fondness and love shown to me by my favorite Uncle and Aunt.
By the way...I think you would have made a Wonderful Granny.
Uncle John-John

Anonymous said...

You would have made a Wonderful Granny.

KM Rockwood said...

I don't have grandchildren of my own, but I do have lots of nieces and nephews. My own children have decided children are not for them.

I had one grandmother and one great grandmother. They had many grandchildren, including the 8 in my family. I was far from a favored child--my goal around them was to be as invisible as possible.