Safe in the Great Mother’s Bed: Love, Loss and Continuing Bonds

Grandma Edna Ware bringing eggs to town

Grandma Edna Ware bringing eggs to town 1955

Before Grandpa died when I was nine, I often visited my grandparent’s farm where Dad had been raised. I lived with my parents and brother in Mexico, Missouri, 12,000 inhabitants, Audrain County seat with an old fashioned town square and a court house in the middle surrounded by candy stores that made their own chocolates, Kaiser Drugs where you could sit at the counter and sip a root-beer float, and dry goods stores where smiling ladies measured out rolls of cloth. The farm was 10 miles from town, and I often spent summer nights there.

Grandma Ware left Grandpa and their double bed to sleep with me in what had been Dad and Uncle Jim’s bed, another metal-framed double bed with creaking springs and a sagging mattress. My young back didn’t mind.

With my brother Jim at the outhouse door

With my brother Jim at the outhouse door 1948

An enamel chamber pot waited behind the closed door of a wooden cabinet next to the bed, and Grandma helped me perch on it so I didn’t have to go to the outhouse after dark. It was always clean, not smelly with stale pee like you might think.

There were prayers, simple words of “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Then Grandma sang quiet spirituals. Her heavy body dented the bed in the middle and my little body rolled into her, the safest place I knew. She smelled of talcum powder and warm flannel, and her uncorseted body yielded and cushioned me. If I wanted to talk, she listened, but soon I fell into deep sleep.

In the morning, Grandma was gone. I smelled browning baking powder biscuits made from scratch. Before breakfast, we walked to the outhouse with the large air space above the door. Then Grandma unlatched the door to the hen house. A warm smell of uric acid, feathers, and hay poured out the door. The hens walked out to greet the morning, bobbing heads with each step, checking left and right, free to peck around the garden and yard for seeds and bugs all day.

When the hens were outside, all except the broody ones, we entered the dark sanctuary to steal the eggs laid in hay along a high ledge. Grandma eased her hand into the nests of the unmoving brooders to see how many eggs were there. In fall and winter, she took their eggs since she didn’t want cold weather chicks. Back at the house, we ate eggs with our breakfast biscuits.

Grandma's doilies over my bed

Grandma’s doilies over my bed

In the evening, Grandma called the hens in at sunset to save them from coyotes and fox. They came running for handfuls of feed. She let me throw the seed and grain while the white hens clucked around my toes. I loved the quiet rhythm of the day, from the rooster’s call to fanning ourselves after dinner under the catalpa trees.

Now, Grandma’s crocheted doilies hang on the wall above my bed. Though Grandma had a fierce side (as strong women do), I remember how she comforted and fed me and made me feel safe. When grief or worry keep me awake, I imagine I’m lying in the bed of the Great Mother, supported and surrounded by Her body as Grandma once supported me. With a prayer of thanks for Comfort and Protection, I fall asleep.


For other posts about my Missouri childhood, see How I Learned to Trust A Man. For two excellent posts from a Jungian perspective about the Grandmother Archetype or Crone, go to Jean Raffa‘s Matrignosis  You might also enjoy The Great Mother Archetype by Mare Cromwell from For The Earth Blog.

  1. Thank you for the mention of my blog. I greatly appreciate it. The Great Mother is a powerful and beautiful spiritual presence who is so yearning for us to reconnect with Her. I’ve been doing talks on The Great Mother and it’s a wonderful thing to share. blessings, blessings, mare

    • Mare, thank you for writing. I’ve been away from my desk all day but planned to send you a message tonight–and here you are because of the magic tools of technology. I have been a devotee of the Great Mother for many years, although I don’t limit my devotion to any one representation. I see her in Anandamayi Ma and other women teachers, in the powerful women in my daily life, in Nature, and in many of the goddesses I’ve studied in a woman’s mythology class that has met for 25 years. I’ve also been a student of the wonderful crone Marion Woodman since the mid 1980s, although she has retired into a private life now. It sounds like you are doing wonderful work for the Mother, and I’m grateful you’re putting your message out into the world. With loving peace, Elaine

  2. I enjoyed this so much!

  3. Hi Elaine, I am so glad that you have the sweet memories of your grandmother to hold and comfort you when you needed it then and still now Beautiful! Again…tears! TOUCHING

    • Hi Lori, I hope you have good grandmother memories, too. My dad was sick when I was a child and there was often tension in my home. That’s probably one of the many reasons I loved being with Grandma.Plus, she cooked all the rich sweet foods my mom thought were unhealthy. My mom was right, but I loved the goodies.

  4. I also have wonderful memories of staying with my Nana.

    • I’m glad, Barb. A supportive grandparent’s love can mean so much in a child’s life. Thanks for reading my blogs and for taking time to respond.

  5. Beautiful. I remember my Gramma McFarlane as tall, thin, smiling, teaching me how to play gin rummy, baker of crumbly melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles, canner of peaches, stoic but immeasurably kind, collector of comics we didn’t get in our own newspapers, source of unconditional love. I still mourn her and feel incredibly privileged to wear her rings. I had my Grammie Funkhouser much longer…she was an accomplished musician, set a perfect table, soothed our mosquito bites with witch hazel, let us eat vanilla ice cream with fresh-picked high bush blueberries late at night, smiled a 1,000 watt smile, always had fresh cut flowers from her garden in the house. I try to emulate her Southern hospitality every day. How blessed am I, to have had these two great mothers nurture me as a child…and to have Ann and Elaine goddess-mother me then and now?!

    • Oh yeah, Liz! Gin rummy and canasta (do you remember how to play gin rummy? We ought to try it.), cookies, pies, canned peaches, watermelon from the garden. Grandma Ware was also a well trained contralto and pianist from her Chicago girlhood, so you remind me of more stories to tell. How did a musical Chicago girl get to a farm in Nowhere, Missouri? I love that you wear Gramma McFarlane’s engagement and ring. Wonderful to be reminded each day of gratitude for all the women who have held, helped, and loved you in your life–and their good marriages, too. I’m privileged to be one of your fans and mothers.

  6. Elaine,

    You have such a beautiful blog. Always interesting photographs to accompany your thoughtful prose. You have a gift for layout and word choices.

    I love so many things about your essay full of memories, but these lines stand out and I found myself going back to them several times: “Her heavy body dented the bed in the middle and my little body rolled into her, the safest place I knew. She smelled of talcum powder and warm flannel, and her uncorseted body yielded and cushioned me.”

    Looking forward to your next essay.

    • Thank you, Kathleen. I love the photography part of my blogs. It’s given me a new creative expression. And I so appreciate your compliments as I am a woman who loves affirmation. When I read the lines you quoted, I remember the feeling so well. And as a writer, I wanted to edit to say “her uncorseted belly” instead of body. But that’s being a writer, isn’t it? Always improvements to be made. I appreciate your encouragement and a new essay is one the way.
      Warmly, Elaine

  7. I loved this Elaine. It brought back a flush of beautiful memories. I had the same grandmother. She and Grandpa had the same farm and chickens, only this was in Morenci, Michigan. I also have an older brother named Jim. At night Grandma would lie down with us in feather beds covered with quilts she’d made for her children, and tell us stories about gypsies and the wild frontier. Thanks for the lovely feelings this brought. Jeanie

    • Thank you, Jeanie, for your wonderful resonating memories, your Jungian knowledge about the archetypes, and your encouraging words. I bask in your kindness, Elaine

  8. Canasta! Euchre! Pinochle! My grandmother taught me how to play cards (and cheat). Cook. Make doughnuts. Make big, soft molasses and sugar cookies. Can peaches. Make wine. Dance the Polka. She was my safe place (the uncorsetted hug). She taught me how to have fun, love, love eating, love cooking, love dancing. She is my hero.

    • Wow, Pat. I love your grandma. Mine certainly didn’t teach me how to cheat at cards, but an important skill. I have so much more to write about my grandma, including helping lace that corset that went from umderarm to pubic bone when I got older. Yes to the love of food from garden to stomach. My mom was always on a diet, so I was in homemade ice-cream and pie heaven. Sounds like you were, too.

  9. This is one of my favorites. As I read the post, I’m sure I could actually smell clean scent of talcum powder, taste the cold frothy root beer float, and feel the warmth and comfort of your dear grandmother. Thank you for sharing a lovely story…

    • Thank you, Ann. I remember my Missouri childhood well. My family moved to Michigan when I was 12, leaving behind my grandma, uncle and aunt, and cousins. My dad died two years later, so that close family love became a memory when I was only 14. But I’m glad I had it as a little one.

  10. And you, Elaine, are such a Great Mother to family and friends!!

    • Thank you, Peggy. Now you understand my influences. My grandma was trained as a contralto and pianist in her girlhood in Chicago and had quite a voice and an emotional temperament. I inherited the emotionality, too.

  11. Thanks, Elaine for the sweet rememberings of Grandma. My memories are different, of course, but equally as memorable. Feel fortunate to know our shared rootstock.

    • Thanks for writing, Jack. I’ll tell you my stories if you tell me yours. I have so many Grandma stories, and this touched on one little aspect. I remember the music, her too big contralto voice in the country church, her big energy as a human being, rich banquets where we ate until we felt sick, and her dark sparkling eyes. The farm was a special sanctuary for me.

  12. Wonderful Elaine, an archetypal grandma experience. It sounds so fabulously cosy. I love outhouses and have always hoped to have one again. I had one in Taos up on the mountain. Sitting on the pot with the door open looking at the dawn light cresting the mountain is a fond memory. After that pooping in the house seemed uncivilized. Still does a little.

    My grandma was wonderful in other ways. She was a dancer, a stage performer with huge breasts, a tiny body and painted on eyebrows. She had travelled to Italy once when the fad was shaved eyebrows. She did it and they never grew back!
    She never cooked anything I can remember but would take me on outings often to things she herself had never experienced before. We shared being surprised by things. She found humor in everything and laughed all the time. Once she decided we would go fishing in a small boat, as she had never fished before, neither had I. We ended up in the water (with all our stuff) when she abruptly stood up in the boat acting out some story she was telling me with great swoops of her arms and throwing her weight around. The whole thing tipped over. She thought it was a grand hoot.
    My mother was not amused when we dragged into the house looking like wet rats. It made the whole thing even funnier to us both that she was so serious.
    Thanks for jostling my memories about her.

    • Grandmas. How sweet the memories. My cozy grandma was also a big tall woman in a tight daytime corset with a large sense of herself–a Chicago woman, a trained contralto and pianist who could sing too loud and be domineering. Many more stories to tell. Thanks for stimulating my memories, too, and I love your stories–fishing, telling stories, dancer, no eyebrows, lusty love for life. Thanks for making me laugh.

  13. Just for contrast, a memory of my maternal grandfather, immigrant metallurgist from Kiev, Ukraine, living in Columbus, Ohio in my early childhood. We’d take the train from Pittsburgh to visit. One time, diabetic, riddled with myeloma, he took me into the bathroom to show me how, by urinating into a test tube and mixing that with something, watching the color change told him how much sugar was there, and so to gauge the next insulin dose. Which he also showed me next, lying in his bed, syringe poised then needle piercing the skin of his exposed thigh. All with a cool mind and a very warm something from somewhere else.

    • Sounds like your grandpa taught the young Fred not to be squeamish about the body and possibly seeded him with the desire to heal and become a doctor–although not a doctor with syringes. Great story. I want to hear more so maybe you’ll write about him. Thanks for sending this delightful tidbit.

  14. I’m remembering my Omi Rosie who came to visit with rainbow cookies. She made each of us grand-kinder feel like she loved us the best. Hugs, Elaine.

    • Oh, I definitely felt loved the best but if you ask my cousins, they might say they were. Thanks for the hugs–just like Grandma used to give, although you aren’t like a soft cushion. Her body type is out of fashion, but when she went to town or church, she pulled her shape together with a corset of hard stays (aptly named) and elastic.

      • Oooooh. I never saw what was holding my huge Omi Rosie together under all her flower-patterned dresses. But when my sister and I could get her to “do the Twist” with us, she jiggled all over.

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