My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In Grandma’s Fingerprint Ann Griffiths tells the story of her Grandma Mabel and how she impacted and influenced her life.
The story begins when Ann was six. She recalls her mother driving her and her siblings away from their father one night and how frightening that felt until they reached their destination and she discovered it was Grandma’s house. Then she knew everything would be okay.
Grandma providing a refuge for Ann, her mom, and siblings wasn’t the only way she helped. Her unconditional love soon had Ann in a tug-of-war as she found herself preferring Grandma’s peaceful, well-ordered home to the chaotic, stormy home of her parents. Grandma believed in her and challenged her to be her best self. She influenced her to attend church and modeled a life of service and hard work that made a lasting impression. She passed on to her granddaughter a rich legacy: a strong work ethic, a spirit of perseverance, the habit of putting her all into every task no matter how small, compassion, consideration and care for others, contentment in serving her family, and more.
Griffiths tells the story in first person. She fills in Grandma’s history as needed and supplements her own memories with material from letters, diaries, journals, newspaper clippings, and interviews. Her keen eye for sensory details adds interest and color to the telling. Here, for example, is her description of what met her each time she entered her parents’ home:
“To enter the house, we didn’t use the front door that usually was blocked by boxes or a piece of furniture. Instead, we walked through the carport … Once in the house, we walked through the laundry room to the kitchen.
Finding our way through the laundry room was like maneuvering a maze or obstacle course. The first hurdle was a Doberman dog named Whiskey, who often was scratching himself and complained when he was rousted from his spot on the outside step or just inside the door. When we made it inside, we had to choose carefully where to step on the gritty plywood floor, while a myriad of smells assaulted our senses—the powerful odors of wet dog, piles of stinking laundry that hopelessly waited to be washed, and the overpowering stench of sweat-ridden shoes and socks that my mom used to say could stand in the corner by themselves” – Grandma’s Fingerprint, p. 82.
A special feature of the book for me was its setting. It takes place in the area where now I live, so it was interesting to read about life here in earlier times–things like Grandma making a weekly three-hour one-way trek to clean house for relatives in West Vancouver, Ann’s involvement as a drummer in the Surrey School Band, the founding of Johnston Heights Church, and other local events and places to which I could relate.
The author begins and ends the book with letter-like chapters to her own granddaughter, so that we almost get the feeling we’re eavesdropping on a special conversation between her and her own family. But this is definitely more than a family keepsake and memoir. It has takeaway value for all grandmas (in the way it shows how the life of one simple woman continues to ripple through generations) and would be especially encouraging to grandmothers (and grandfathers) tasked with raising their grandkids for whatever reason.
The “Introduction” contains a list of people and the milestone dates of their lives (births, deaths, marriages, moves) so it’s easy to keep track of who everyone is. There are also four sections of black-and-white photographs that help bring Grandma, Ann, and the story’s other characters to life.
I first found out about this book when Griffiths gave a talk about the influence of grandparents and specifically her grandmother at a seniors’ lunch. She speaks often on that topic as well as the topic of mentoring, and has co-written A Mentor’s Fingerprint (with Donna Inglis). Check out their website Fingerprint Ministries.