I wrote this up to share with my family this weekend, at Grandma’s memorial. I thought I’d share it here too.
These are some of the things I remember about my grandmother.
Grandma used to put vanilla ice cream in a cup of Constant Comment if I was having a bad day. Just a little scoop. It would melt and blend in and make the tea really sweet. I always felt better because of it. I used to think it was the ice cream, but now I am thinking it was probably because she’d sit at her kitchen table with me and listen to me talk about my sorrows while I drank it.
She got her first pair of pants in 1969. One day out of the blue, she called my mom up, said she wanted to be a “modern woman” and asked Mom to take her shopping for pants. Mom said that Grandma tried on about fifty pair until she settled on some. Grandpa was just appalled and horrified and made such a fuss, but Grandma wore them anyway. One day about a week later he allowed as how perhaps they were not so bad. By the time I was a little girl, she had many stylish pantsuits. But she always wore a pretty dress if we were going out and to sit down to dinner. She always matched her shoes and her handbags.
Grandma took me to the toystore on every single visit and said I could pick out anything I wanted. Once I wanted something very expensive. She got it after I agreed to pay for half. I think I still owe her $8.00 for it but she never asked for it.
Grandma was a lady. When Grandpa said words like “D*mmit.” at the dinner table, Grandma would scowl at him and say, “BILL!” He’d look sheepish and pat her hand. He loved to play tricks on us, and often would distract the child sitting closest to him and steal their dessert (I cannot tell you how many times I fell for “Oh look, a balloon!”) and she would always make him give it back.
Grandma had yellow roses that grew along the back fence and geraniums by the back door.
She liked to drink dark beer if we went out for Mexican food. She only started drinking it after Grandpa died, because he didn’t like her drinking it. There was great consternation on the night we were out for a family dinner shortly after his death. We went to her favorite Mex place and everyone’s jaw hit the table when she politely shook out her napkin, placed it in her lap and informed the waiter, “I think I’ll have a dark beer.”
My grandmother raised me, both in infancy shortly after I was born and then again when my mom had to leave us for good and find her own bliss somewhere else – I was just 13 months old. Grandma came to stay for a while until my dad got things sorted out with a nanny. I spent every summer with her until I was about 13 and then I went to summer camp instead. I had long auburn hair that Grandma liked to style into ringlets. When I was about 5, Dad got sick of combing it so he cut it all off into a boy cut and Grandma yelled at him.
Grandma was such a great cook that when Grandpa went hunting pheasant or grouse, you never got a piece of buckshot after she made it.
Grandma never said an unkind word about anyone but always managed to let you know when something wasn’t okay. She was gracious, empathetic and made things smooth and pleasant for the people around her. She would remember your favorite soda and have it on hand in the cold cupboard near the basement. She’d remember that you were scared of the dark and put the nightlight on. She wouldn’t ever make you climb the scary stairs alone up to bed. She had infinite patience and knew that if one parked oneself with a book on the 2nd step of the wide staircase in the foyer, all 8 small grandchildren could gather around on the steps beside and above to listen and everyone could see the pictures. She did not yell when someone who looked a lot like me crayoned their name painstakingly on the silk wallcovering above the fourth step. The letters stayed there until the day the house was sold.
Grandma provided me with, as one friend aptly put it, an alternative view on the world. If I’d been left to be raised by the wolves at Chez Single Dad, I would be a very different person today. Don’t get me wrong, my father did a great job, but he didn’t know what to do with a little girl. He bought me Hot Wheel cars, built me a child sized toolbench in his shop and equipped it with tiny tools. He taught me to make model airplanes. Grandma bought me dolls that cried real tears and needed real diapers, gave me tiny houses with tiny families to put inside and taught me what forks to use. She reminded me not to put my elbows on the table, how to eat soup properly with a spoon (don’t slurp) and how to pour tea. When I was with her I got to be a little girl and wear dresses with knee socks and hair ribbons.
My dad reminds me for all the world of Atticus Finch, both in the larger story and in the lessons he taught me about life, how to treat other people and fairness. I know he learned those lessons himself at Grandma’s knee. Growing up I was a proper Scout, half wild, a rumpled little heathen in ripped overalls. One who needed a bath, a good combing and whose pants never fit quite right. It was absolutely glorious. And every start of summer, my dad would drive me to Grandma’s and life would be transformed into something also glorious but completely different. Grandma and I went to wonderful movie theatres and restaurants, we took tea, and I had patent shoes and little gloves and a purse. Somehow she always managed to know when I needed to put on my pants and go run all that civilizing out at the park or visit the boisterous boy cousins in San Mateo.
I was always happy to go home to my dad, my trees, my playhouse (dad did make a concession to girlness, he hung curtains in the real glass windows), my child sized toolbench and tools and model cars. Grandma didn’t hand out glass jars and allow one to go hunt tadpoles in muddy ponds after all, or disappear into the woods all afternoon. Grandma did not like mud and I thought mud was perfectly splendid, thank you. Particularly if you got it all over your clothes and hands. We disagreed on a few of those minor points. Still, the contrast was nice and it did give me a bigger view of the way things *could* be.
The time with her was special and indelible and imbued me with the knowledge that I was loved unconditionally and that has sustained me throughout my entire life. The wonderful thing is that she wasn’t just that for me, you see, she was that for all of us, all her kids and grandkids, in the way that we each needed most. She was remarkable, inexhaustible and generous with her affections.
She had 8 grandkids, 6 great grandkids. She sent two sons to two wars and they both came back alive. She was married to the love of her life for 65 years and he adored and cherished her every day of those years, until the day he had to leave us. And on top of all that, when it was her time to go, she’d done SUCH a good job at living that God let her have one last cuppa and an ice cream sundae before she left.