We Called Her “Grandma Forgetful”

My entry for the 50th COG, dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, is a tribute to one of the sweetest, caring and most talented women in my life.  She is still in my life since I have pictures of her, postcards from her, and many, many items she created at one point in her life.  I have notes attached to various items in her handwriting, noting “This is for Linda from Grandma Nellie.”  I treasure each thing I have from her and write this in loving memory of her.

Nellie Viola Niess Sherman was my father’s mother.  She had been born into Washington DC society, with “a silver spoon in her mouth” as the saying goes and was throughout his life, My great-grandfather’s pride and joy.  She could do no wrong in his estimation and wanted for nothing.

Nellie V. Niess as a young girl, early 1900's, Washington D.C.

Nellie V. Niess as a young girl, early 1900's

She was a talented lady and had been an Art Teacher in the Washington DC school system in her early life.   She crocheted and sewed beautifully.  I am the proud caretaker of several of her tablecloths, dresses and a variety of other linens.  Several pieces of her artwork hang on my wall today.

She married in 1914 and by 1921 had three sons who she raised into successful men.  She was the grandmother of seven and the great-grandmother of the same number.  Her father and her husband both died in 1948, months apart.  After their deaths, she traveled and finally settled in San Francisco, a city she had lived in earlier.

My memories of her start in the 2nd grade.  She came to visit us when we were living in Hawaii.  I had met her briefly before that, but I was too young to remember.  On this visit she shared my bedroom and took time to teach me to crochet.  She always reminded me to write down my memories.  I never did, and of course, regret that today.  The picture below was taken on the visit that I don’t remember.  My mother is on the left, she is in the middle and my mother’s mother, Bertha Lindgren is on the right.  Wish I’d been in the picture!

Mother, Grandma Nellie, Grandmother Lindgren, Hawaii

Mother, Grandma Nellie, Grandmother Lindgren, Hawaii

I remember visiting her in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.   I loved her tiny apartment with a Murphy Bed and a view of the city from her corner windows.  Memories of her kitchette with cheery curtains and a matching tablecloth pop up in my mind every now and then.  The excitement of that cosmopolitan city in mid-century was something I always looked forward to.

Her visits to our home were a highlight in my life.    She was a sweet, caring person and I miss the person she was.

Probably taken in the late 1920's early 1930's, San Francisco, CA

Probably taken in the late 1920's. From my great-grandfather's collection

As the 1950’s turned into the 1960’s, Grandma Nellie’s memory became somewhat distorted.  She had crocheted an afghan for my wedding and I had written the obligatory thank you note.  Five months later she chastised me in a letter for not writing a thank you note.  (I still have the afghan!) Not too long after that she gave her TV to her newspaper boy.

Dad decided to take a trip to San Francisco to see what was going on.  She had gone from bad to worse and money was stuffed in books, her name was written in ballpoint pen on family heirlooms and initials scratched on silver plates and dishes. . . . . “so nobody would steal them like they did her Television set.”

It was time to move her closer to us.  Dad found a little cottage for her and the move was made.  After she took a walk and the police called him at work because she was lost, it was decided the cottage was not the best move and perhaps an establishment with around the clock care would be the better option.

We would go visit her and pick her up and bring her to our home.  We took her for rides and she thought she was in the Rocky Mountains when she was on the way to the beach in Southern California.  She told me about her daddy bringing her a handerchief she was holding.  It was actually a paper napkin from our picnic.

Taken by her son, William F. Sherman, 1950, Kailua, Hawaii,

Taken by my father of his mother, 1950, Kailua, Hawaii,

Towards the end of her life we would visit her without my father.  He did not want to remember his mother that way.  She was strapped in a wheelchair so she wouldn’t fall out and didn’t remember us.  I would go anyway. She seemed to light up when she saw me coming with my toddler.  Perhaps it reminded her of something in her past.  We never knew.

On April 30, 1976, Grandma Forgetful joined her beloved Papa and Mother.

Grandma Nellie had died years earlier.


3 thoughts on “We Called Her “Grandma Forgetful”

  1. I’ve got tears in my eyes waiting to spill over. The twisted thinking, strapped to a wheel chair… you could have been writing about my own mother’s decline. How painful it is to remember that. How necessary it is not to forget. A beautiful tribute.

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