Because of you: Remembering Grandma Conway’s lifetime of love

April 2014 Posted in People
Vivian Molly Sanderfer Conway

Vivian Molly Sanderfer Conway

By Brenna (Conway) Wiegand

Can one person really make a difference? Of course she can. It’s still fun to hear such a story. This one’s about my grandma, who recently died just shy of 100 years old.

Vivian Molly Sanderfer Conway – “Grandma Conway” – leaves 141 descendants whose lives are richer because of her influence. As matriarch, Grandma Conway made us a tight knit extended family.

Her stories of growing up dirt poor in Oklahoma during America’s most difficult time in history contained heartbreaking tragedies and amusing antics of a multigenerational family who relied on each other.

This added to the pain when the young family struck out as vagabonds to scrabble through the worst period in American history; Depression era migrant workers derisively called “Okies.” Cotton-pickin’ Okies…

Cut that wood and chop that cotton. Cherry pickers needed in Arkansas. Peaches 60 miles north. Peas to be picked in West Texas. If need be they’d pull the kids out of school, either to help or to move. They’d tie their only mattress and whatever else they could onto a dilapidated automobile, cramming the rest inside with their five kids.

…but Grandma Conway made us know it was a sweet time of fierce togetherness, resourcefulness and very hard work that had much of the humorous about it, all told in her lulling Southern vernacular. By the end, her repertoire of stories spanned events before the Depression to present day.

We moved to Canby where she lived when my oldest child was 2. She was so happy when she came over and asked Nathan if he’d like “a stick of chewin’ gum.” Now Nate had a great vocabulary, but something about the way she said it required interpretation. He nodded his head so she told time to “run over yonder by the divan and fetch me my pocketbook.” You should have seen the look on his face.

She liked reading Miss Marple mysteries and we enjoyed having tea and scones while imagining someone was “peeking over the transom.” She taught me to bake bread and got me addicted to gardening. She helped me raise my kids and my mood.

Vivian Molly Sanderfer ConwaySome of the naughtier cousins used to get lectures that usually started with “Now, you ought not to be doin’ that-away…” Grandma was the disciplinarian of her own kids, Grandpa – “Mock” – being so laid back he thought nothing of giving the wheel to a 10-year-old son so he could take a nap in the back seat. In later years she resented how often she’d instructed her kids to “go fetch me a switch.”

…Seemed like everybody would end up over there at Grandma and Grandpa’s all the time.” ~ Mike Conway, grandson.

“…we were on a trip to Oklahoma and in the middle of the night we broke down in New Mexico. Dad and the mechanic were in his shop working on the generator, and Ken and I were in the office there, and Mama came in and asked about a restroom. ‘Go right on out back right past those mountain lion and rattlesnake cages and it’s right ahead of you…’ She went right back out and got in the car.” ~ Arnold Conway, son

“…I was overdue by about three weeks. Mom decided we should maybe try some castor oil to ‘speed things up.’ She mixed up a concoction with orange juice; but she had accidentally grabbed the camphorated oil…” ~ Pat Moles, daughter

“Money was very scarce and Dad didn’t always have a job. I remember her working all day in the cotton/bean fields and then coming home and doing meals, laundry, cleaning, etc. She is a wonderful mother and a wonderful person. I can’t think of anyone I admire more. She worked hard to raise us kids so we could go out and become productive members of society.” ~ Don Conway, son

“When I was a young bride, I remember feeling fearful about the state of the world with its cold war, nuclear stand-offs, bomb shelters, and other end-of-the-world events … I was worried about bringing a child into such a place. She immediately put me at ease on this topic then and for the rest of my life. ‘Well now, Marilyn,’ she said, ‘people have always been saying the world’s coming to an end and it hasn’t ended yet…’ “~ Marilyn Conway, daughter-in-law

“ younger sister was sitting out in the yard … our dog had been hit and killed by a car. Grandma went out to her. ‘Nettie, I expect you’re pretty sad about losing that dog of yours,’ she started. ‘Yeah,’ said Lynette, drawing a ragged breath, ‘but at least I know he’s in heaven.’ A silent moment…

‘Well, now Nettie, dogs don’t go to heaven…’” ~ Lori Aselton, granddaughter

Oh what fun my sisters and girl cousins would have spending the night at Grandma’s! One morning early we awoke to the sight and sound of a sledgehammer coming through the wall. Turns out she’d been wanting that wall taken out and her sons weren’t stepping up. This way, she figured, they’d have to come finish the job.

She could make a meal out of anything; even of their poorest times she said: “You could always make biscuits and gravy.”

“I liked how she mixed all things together like casseroles … fresh sliced tomatoes with warm homemade bread and real butter, topped off with a yummy slice of homemade boysenberry pie.” ~ Denise Seroyer, granddaughter

“…the most precious of memories for me are of having tea with Grandma talking over all the problems of life – husbands, jobs, kids, baking, canning, feeling sad or feeling glad, I will always remember leaving our visits feeling like we were lucky to be (in the) here and now, and that God was the answer to many of the unexplainable pains in life.” ~ Sherry Schauer, granddaughter

She fascinated my son Geoff when he was about 3. They were going into her old tool shed to fetch the laundry basket of old toys when Grandma noticed a rat had been nibbling the bars of soap she’d made. Geoff wondered how they could get in there with the door shut – and padlocked.

“Well, now, Geoffrey, rats can mash themselves up flat and squeeze right under that door there.”  You should have seen his face.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.