There is a lot more life and attempts at faith going on these days than my travels. In general, I need to write more for myself; perhaps I may find that despite the infrequency of plane rides, bumpy roads through Iceland and Tube cramming, I am having plenty of adventures. My curse is that of being a verbal processor. One like me, has limited insight in to his or her heart until he or she begins talking or in my case, writing. So here it goes.
My Grandmother passed away very recently and I have found it to be quite the blow to my heart. She nearly made it to 96 years old, in fact, she was only nine days shy of her birthday. I can remember attending the 100th Birthday of her father when I was only four years old.
What I have found most challenging in my attempts at grieving is that it is hard to know what to do about the grief that you feel. When someone is around for the entirety of your life, there is this false reality that their existence on earth is indefinite. A healthy 90-year-old seems invincible; when their wits are about them and they still tend to the garden. How or why would that ever change?
As I took the time to write for her memorial program and assemble photos, the overwhelming reality of her influence in my life set in. Nearly every Christmas, Thanksgiving, Spring Break, Holiday weekend was spent with her and there are many memories surrounding it all.
She introduced me to the Big Band Era, kicking her feet to Glen Miller’s, “In The Mood”. She taught me that seagulls can eat everything, including your leftover spaghetti. I learned what a marionette is and how creepy they are. I discovered what cloisonné, the Orient, pheasant, candied ginger, The Macy’s Day Parade, escargot and hydrangea are and how to crack nuts, properly make a bed, play black jack and prepare veal bockwurst. She snored unbelievably loud, loved the beach, had the most beautiful roses and soil in her garden that I wanted to truck it out when she sold that great house. She stretched every morning, pitched baseballs to the kids, befriended neighborhood cats and loved Chinese food.
She was a legend in the family, because in one moment, if she was buying she wouldn’t let you have a whole cheeseburger at a restaurant (forced sharing) or try to convince you that “no one charges that much for bananas” at an honor system fruit stand – leaving the more appropriate amount; but in the next moment she might pay for your college education, give you a huge no-interest loan or just write you a $2,000 check, just because. You couldn’t accuse her of being stingy. She was frugal with a heavy side of generosity.
And so goes Grandma. We didn’t see as much of one another in the last few years. I’ve gotten older with a family of my own and she moved further south. But we would talk and write and I made sure to always tell her I loved her. That was the last thing I said to her when I saw her the few days before she died. She hadn’t been up for 24 hours and something stirred her. So while I put a cold rag to her brow and touched her hand, I told her, “I love you Grandma. Very much.” And she said, “I love you too. Very much.” She never got out of bed after that day and passed three days later.
Memories live long after the deceased, providing that comforting sense of a life prolonged in to eternity. Though she is not with me now, it is in the blink of an eye that we shall be reunited and kicking our feet to the Big Bands together.
I will conclude this long epitaph with what I said at the memorial. She was a treasure, I hope she knew that in this life; she certainly knows it now.
When I think of Grandma, I can’t help but think of the joy in her heart that welcomed us all in. Standing on the porch, greeting us when we arrived armed with candy dishes and a big smile.
As grandchildren we were invited to participate in her world: talk at the table, venture in to the mysteries of the basement, smell the flowers, pick the raspberries. She shared her life. It wasn’t just showing up at her house to be entertained; she was a teacher of life. I think of how much I learned from her, just being around her; hearing her stories, watching her at the sink or by the radio, in the garage or wandering around downtown Portland. It was fun to follow her around, being a student of her admiration of just about everything.
That big smile that she smiled with her mouth and her eyes conveyed a joy in simply living. She took pleasure in warm days – turning on the sprinklers to give her garden a drink and her ankles a cool down. She would describe in detail and with great enthusiasm every morsel of her supper, even if it was just soup and sandwich. That ancient jar of pickles was an opportunity to share family history as well as her chance to help you discover more ancient canned goods in the basement… and tools… and magazines… and a fridge that you could talk through. Her collections of little birds and cloisonné vases were treasures and tomatoes, onions and figs were gifts. A YAHTZEE or a bunco made her gitty and just about anything you would say, made her sing. ALL of it was joy.
As she got older, those smile lines got deeper, showing the world that delighting in life should be worn on your face.
To quote Shakespeare, “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
She seemed to let those wrinkles come unashamedly. She was Grandma, take it or leave it and that is what mattered; the memories she created, the life lessons she shared, the spontaneous dancing she encouraged – all with a smile.
Grandma, thank you for all that you were to all of us. I hope that we all leave this earth with the signs of love and laughter permanently on our faces, as you did. You were one of a kind and you will be deeply missed.