Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gladys Wood By Kayte MG Langstaff

My earliest memories of my grand-mother, Gladys Wood, are all scent and vague images – spiced bacon and old books and the diffuse light that filtered through the window at the top of the farmhouse stairs - but my age was still counted in months the first time we met, and circumstances would slide ten more years between us before we had the chance to speak.

For that first decade, she was a feature in my mother’s stories and a face in photographs: one of a pair of girls with linked arms and matched smiles or the pretty young woman with the doll-like baby that somehow grew up to be my towering uncle “Chic”. In more contemporary pictures, she had a smile that shaped her cheeks exactly like mine.

When she came to visit us, she brought art books and vine charcoal, two porcelain Siamese cats that she made sing and dance for me. She loved to tell tales and eat rich foods like egg yolks, dark meats, and creamy foreign cheeses. She openly and proudly adored her mother and her sisters and spoke long and vibrantly about the family.

Gladys was the sort of woman who knew herself and had no fear of showing her colors, from experimental cooking to show tunes played loud in her car. She gave praise and criticism with equal passion, always meaning to love, even if her words could sometimes cut.

To me, she was something altogether new and wonderful. She was a loving grandmother who dared to invest herself in an eclectic and sometimes unpleasant girl, showering me with care and attention even though we were two states’ width apart. She made me want to learn to whistle ornate symphonies the way she could, and she bolstered my self-esteem by letting me cut her hair or insisting that my backrubs were the best.

I’ll never forget the garden she drew from the hillside around her house or the lush curtains of fuchsias that spilled from hanging pots along the perimeter of her porch, and I’ll never forget the way she would exhaust herself to talk to me on the telephone the month before she passed away. My concerns were still more important to her than her own, and she still offered me warnings and advice that I wish I had given more heed. She never stopped providing her love.

I used to send her “Happy B(earth day)” cards and find them pinned to the wall in her office months later, and she will always come to mind before tree planting or river cleaning on earth day. She was the voice of the gnome that lived under the maple tree, the hand that tended the peonies and roses, and the heart that smoothed the tension from a hundred family disputes. She is unforgettable.

Picture One: Gladys
Picture Two: Lucille Kinsella and her cousin, Gladys
Picture Three: Gladys and Chic
Picture Four: Beth, Gladys and Kayte
Picture Five: Kayte, Gladys and her marvelous garden


Pat said...


Thank you so much, for sharing these wonderful memories! I will think of her on her birthday, Earth Day.

Now, if only I could have inherited some of her green thumb!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for awakening some of the slumbering memories I have. "She was the voice of the gnome that lived under the maple tree" its amazing how you can laugh and cry at the same time. Thank you!

Mom always said that God broke the mold when he made her...I believe that is true ... but thankfully he put pieces of that mold in all of us, so she can never truly be gone. Love and Miss you mom
Always your, #6

CB said...

To those of us who knew Gladys, aren't we the lucky ones!!! For others, read and emulate for she was a peach! A giver, a compassionate person, she nevertheless spoke her mind as she saw it!! And yes, the beauty she created in her yard was unbelievable [ I am one of the few Baker descendants who did NOT inherit a green thumb!]
She and I never had enough time together. On that we agreed but we sure cut the mustard when we did get together!Yes, I miss her terribly, a letter from her was a day long treat as you chewed over her comments. As I say, I was lucky! And I pass along one of her suggestions given while in bed with pneumonia, " I ignore the spider webs in the corner [ which I never see when well] but give me a can of gold paint and they will shine for me!" CB

CB said...

Kayte, I see you inherited Gladys' wonderful way with words!! Thank you for a truly elegant piece! She would have loved it!!!CB

Kathryn said...

I remember my Grandma (Lil) talking to one female or another and going through lots of names before she got to the right one. I liked being called Sylva. or CB. Even Gladys. Later in life, my Mom did the same thing. I then got called 'Gail', 'Laurie', or 'Wendy'. Cool! Sure made me feel younger! My sisters got it too. So, somewhere, my baby sister started just saying "#6 Mom." or something like that. So, HI WENDY!! Personally, I did not want to go by the birth number. Maybe it was because I was second. . . .
Now, today I called my grandson Gavyn, Kenny. He said "I'm not PaPa". OOPS!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathryn!!!,

Actually it was mom that came up with the #6... I guess she got sick of running through all the names haha... which was really cool because Dad always called me Shorty, Mike always called me Tuffy. So to me it wasnt really a number, it was that something special that mom called me, well other than just her baby. I honestly can't even remember when she started it... but then I guess it doesnt matter, I will always be #6 anyway you cut it. :)

laurelamyd said...

Nicely written
Oh those beautiful flowers, as a child, I really did try not to step on them or pick to many. As an adult my head swam with mom trying to teach me their names. How I wish I could see them all again.
Mom, of course at any time loved to be in the thick of FAMILY.
Happy Birthday Mom,
Laurel Amy

Kayte said...

Thanks everyone for all the compliments!

Grandma really inspired me, and I certainly did inherit her penchant for "5 dollar words"... I also learned to love plants, memorizing their names and nowadays driving my kids crazy quizzing them. I still have Lilly of the Valley in my garden that might have originally come from hers, and I often wish I had a patch of the Sweet William she pointed out so often.

Wendy, I'm glad to remind you of anything good. CB, I'm honored by your praise. Laurie, I loved those informational walks through her flowerbeds. Her garden was what got me interested in plants, and I remember most of what she had at it's multi-tiered prime.

Does anyone have a picture of her garden at its best? I only see it in memories now...


Wendy (Wood) Osterhout said...


Laurie and I were just talking about that... both of us were saying how we need to go through our photos to see if we can find any really good pictures of the garden. I'm pretty sure they’re some floating around; just have to find them... but I am the queen of disorganization and mismanagement, so it may take me a bit. But if/when I find any I will happily share.

Pat said...

And, may I add, let the blog know as well if you come up with pictures of the garden--It would be a terrific story!

Kathryn said...

I was talking to my youngest today, and I realized that I wanted to post the following. When my oldest daughter was born, Kenny and I were at Camp LeJeunne, North Carolina. Kenny was on the sea with the Marines when she was born. I was alone. The next day I called our parents to let them know. First I called his parents, when I told them we had a daughter, his mom said, "oh, well, the next one will be a boy". She made me feel like crap. Then I called my parents. I had to call collect on both calls. Ma took the call and hardly gave me a second to say 'hi' before she, excitedly, rattled off that I had a girl, 7lbs. 6oz, 21 and a half inches long, born on sunday at 8:40 AM. I asked how she knew and she said that she tried to call me the day before and didn't get an answer so she called every hospital in the area untill she found the one on base that I was in. Her joy in my daughter made up for my mother-in-law's rejection. This was typical for my Mother.

CB said...

I have to jump in with another comment after Kathryn's last note! Gladys' call and reaction was so typical of her!! She always made you feel as tho you were the certain one that she wanted to see or hear!! Maybe that is why we miss her so, there are so few like that!
and Kathryn, I know BOTH your girls and they are winners!! CB