Bella Anderson

My mother reminded me that it is twenty years ago today that my grandmother died. That means that twenty years ago tonight I was a college first-year coming home from a boring date with a German guy to have my roommate (she whom I just visited, in fact) tell me the news. My grandmother, Clara Bella Donna Matilda Wold Anderson, was a missionary’s daughter who spent most of her first eighteen years in China. As her father was the president of a seminary and her mother busy with ten children (and then ill, and then dead), she grew up with three mother tongues, Norwegian, English, and Chinese, which she spoke fluently, though with a peasant accent from the nannies and servants with whom she spent so much time. At eighteen, she boarded a ship to the U.S. and her step-mother said, “One less mouth to feed, one less pair of shoes to buy.” She graduated from college and was the only woman in her class in pharmacy school. She married my grandfather, moved to Iowa, and raised my uncle and mother working as a pharmacist for several neighboring towns all the while.

I can trace most of the things I like about myself back to her as well as many of my quirks and flaws—over-confidence, impatience, stubbornness. She, who once sawed a sofa in half and reupholstered it in order to have a sectional, might well have found herself in the predicament I am in tonight. I have a lovely new desk but the drawers came without handles attached. “Complain!” urged my mother, “Beware! Those are very hard to do. If you’re even a little off, they don’t work.” Undeterred, I drilled away. When I discovered the screws that came with it were too short, I went out and bought longer ones. Now, I have drawers with holes in the front. In them, I can keep a growing collection of handles, short screws, and longer screws with threads that don’t quite match the handle. How I can hear my grandmother’s loud, hearty laugh! Tomorrow, I’ll go to Target and get some sturdy twine and make rope handles and be done with it. Rope handles are very trendy, I hear.