March 19, 2013

How I Learned to Trust a Man

with Grandpa ~1948
Baby Elaine with Grandpa Ware: 1947

Grandpa Ware smelled like cinnamon toast, steaming cow pies, and brown soap. His wrinkled cheeks were soft against my face if he had shaved or scratchy when he hadn’t. He covered his wispy white hair and sun baked face with a big straw hat. Outside, he wore tall rubber boots to foil chiggers as he made his way through the barnyard. Inside, he wore ancient scuffed leather slippers. His devoted mutt Poochie followed him everywhere, sleeping on Grandpa’s feet or padding behind him to the barn or garden.

I trusted Grandpa’s quiet raspy voice, his careful calloused hands, and his kind words that never hurt or scolded. He was the first in a long line of gentle men who taught me how to trust a man’s words and hands—my dad and Uncle Jim, my big brother, and later my husband Vic and our sons David and Anthony.

Grandpa’s brown eyes lit up when he swept me into his arms and carried me close to his heart. His shirt pockets smelled of Red Man tobacco and butterscotch drops. I perched on the back of his milk cow while he squatted on a three-legged stool below me, milk splashing into the sides of the metal bucket with even rhythmic squirts. Sometimes, he helped my little hands coax and pull the milk from the warm fleshy teats.

Grandma and Grandpa: ~1953
Edna and Lon C. Ware: ~1953

In the spring, Grandpa waited to feed the abandoned lambs until his grandchildren arrived for Sunday dinner. Two or three curly critters bleated in the dooryard and pushed against our legs. Grandpa sat on a porch step, braced my back against his belly, and held me tight as a wooly white lamb pulled on the bottle, yanking me forward with a fast fierce suck.

Grandpa was a surveyor before I was born. He traveled to Chicago around 1910 and met and married my Dutch grandmother. When his parents died, Grandpa brought his city bride to the sagging farm with an outhouse out back and a water pump in front. The farm was ten miles from Mexico, Missouri, that is, ten miles from nowhere.

On Sunday nights after Grandma’s dinner of crisp roasted chicken, baking powder biscuits and giblet gravy, peas and corn fresh or canned from the garden and smothered in home-churned butter, and apple or peach pie, Grandpa took out his false teeth and played his harmonica while Grandma played the piano. She was a classically trained musician and took the lead, but he kept up, tapping his foot and wailing on his mouth harp with his head tipped to the side and his body rocking to ragtime or a spiritual.

In winter, he carefully poured black chunks from spouted buckets into the coal stove in the dining room, trying to keep the dust from flying toward Grandma’s hand crocheted tablecloth. In summer when it was sometimes 100 degrees, we sat under the shade of catalpa trees. Grandpa and my dad took turns hand churning ice cream made with the cow’s thick cream, peaches from the orchard, and ice from the icehouse.

In the evening, the grown-ups played cards in the parlor—canasta or gin rummy, but never bridge—while I caught fireflies and played hide and seek with my brother and cousins. There was no alcohol. Grandma was dead set against liquor and no one dared challenge her rule.

Grandpa died of a stroke when I was only 9. In the weeks after his death, I felt his love and safety surrounding me as I fell asleep at night. When I was a young woman, I always knew how to read a man’s intentions and protect myself. Grandpa was my first teacher.


What did you learn from your grandfather? For other posts about the supportive men in my life, see this story or this one. Thanks to my cousin Jack Ware for sharing his memories.


  1. March 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Kay Marie


    Soul tender. I also came from a long line of Norwegian Immigrant Farmers that made their living on the verdant Prairie. My 87 years young Daddy lives alone on the Farm where he was born. The Farm was a Wedding gift to my Grandmother from my Great Grandfather. My Grandmother went to Concordia College in the early 1900’s which was almost unheard of for a young woman on the Prairie. My Grandfather played the Violin and my Grandmother played the piano. No alcohol allowed on our Farm! I am looking forward to the 22nd!

    1. March 20, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Ah, similar roots. My grandpa came from Welsh folks–from Wales to Boston to Kentucky to Missouri. He was so tough and sweet. Amazing that your daddy still is on that farm. My Dutch grandma in the photo went to “business college” in Chicago and got her classical music training as a girl and young woman. She was a big woman with a big voice. Thanks for your great story. I look forward to hearing more.

  2. March 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm



    thanks for inviting us so tucked in close, i can really taste you Sunday dinners! xxoo

    1. March 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks, Eve. Grandma Ware was an incredible cook–if you didn’t mind getting fat and having clogged arteries–and she was a trained opera singer. I have plenty of stories in my back pocket about her, but this time the loving men in my life seemed to need recognition.

  3. March 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Kirsten Wasson


    Such wonderful sensual details. Seems like you learned about trust in part through your senses!

    1. March 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes, Kirsten, you’re right. In Jungian typology, I’ve always been strong in sensation and feeling. My grandpa was, too. Hope you’re enjoying yourself in warm juicy LA while we freeze our butts in Ithaca March wind. But I did see a golden orb in the sky for a while this morning, but it retreated quickly. Too cold, it said. Thanks for reading and sending a note.

  4. March 20, 2013 at 12:26 am



    It seemed like my grandpa was always smiling. So happy to see us when we visited in the summertime. Enthusiastically watching the Red Sox on TV while we enjoyed Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream with fresh high bush blueberries on top. Patiently teaching us how to smack a tennis ball over the garage roof with an old axe handle as a bat. Proudly measuring our heights every summer and marking our growth on the doorframe in the garage. Grinning broadly as he perched on Dad’s motorcycle with Grammie…commemorating their 50th wedding anniversary. Grandpa was a math teacher and I like to think he’d be tickled to know I received a perfect score on my pre-college calculus exam.

    I didn’t know my other grandpa…he passed away before I was born. But I see him in my dreams and feel him through my dad. I treasure the things his hands once touched that are part of me now: a steamer trunk, a monogrammed belt buckle, a set of mechanical engineer’s drafting tools, the engagement ring I wear.

    1. March 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for writing about your grandpa, Liz. Sounds like you had a honey of a granddad, too. And one story leads to another. Your dad’s motorcycle? 50th wedding anniversary. Smacking that tennis ball with an old ax handle. We are lucky to have these love experiences to remember and I think these kind men from our childhoods help us see recognize a sweet heart in men own age. Sending love.

  5. March 19, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Janet Wylde


    Sweet memories.

    1. March 20, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Sweet memories. I hadn’t thought of Grandpa for years, but when I saw the photo of him holding me, I remembered all the loving men in my life.

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