My grandmother passed away recently. She was 82.
Grandma was born in 1932. She grew up in a Depression-era home in Kansas with war in the world. Her life began as radio matured and television was born. Her grandparents saw horses as everyday tools, and her grand (and great grand) children see them as curiosities and pets. The world she was born into may have passed on, but in her life she passed on important lessons that even today I’m still learning.
She was perhaps the kindest person that I have ever known. I never explicitly thought about that until the family began sharing stories of grandma. She worked until the doctors told her she couldn’t. She loved to see the people, have coffee with her friends and be a part of the world.
As the family began to trade their memories of grandma I found it interesting that each of us grandchildren had our own distinct relationship with her. Our ages range from my 38 to young adults in their 20. I was the first grandchild, born in 1976 when grandma and Grandpa were in their 40s. Aside from my parents they were the first constant in my existence. Their house was where Christmas was, where visiting aunts stayed, where every family gathering happened. They were our emergency contacts and secondary caregivers.
To this day whenever I smell a roast cooking I think of Grandma’s house. I’ve eaten roast in lots of places but that smell will always take me to that green house. Digging crayons out of an old coffee can. Eating an oatmeal and gumdrop cookie while I fiddled with the rotary phone and watched PBS. Always PBS at grandma and Grandpa’s house…and basketball.
I had several volumes of the Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia that I’d begged my mom to get every time we were at the grocery store. My favorite was of course the dinosaur volume. When she would watch my brother, sister and I while our parents were at bowling league I would make her read the dinosaur book to me. She would read it every time I asked, even though she’d have to ask me to pronounce the names. When my son was 4 or 5 grandma gave him a Jurassic Park kid’s book she found at a yard sale, so I could keep the tradition alive.
Other random memories include the collection of condiment packages in her fridge, the starfish on her bathroom wall, The M*A*S*H videotape collection that her and Grandpa had. How happy she was when she was telling me how much she liked the Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole Unforgettable duet. I saw the cassette on her kitchen counter and picked it up to look at it. My memory is that she told me one of the reasons she liked it was because Nat King Cole was one of her favorites.
I don’t know if some of my favorite stories of grandma are real memories or family legend. Either way, they formed my picture of her so I’ll hang onto them. One story about her and Grandpa as teenagers, at the train station, ready to runaway. She was pregnant and it was 1950. Grandpa’s dad found them and talked them into staying. She had to give up school to raise her family, but she did get her diploma, the same year I graduated high school.
The other story I’ve always liked is when my aunt, my dad’s older sister, got in trouble in high school for wearing pants. It was the late 60s. The school called grandma, demanding that she come to the school and continue to punish the wayward girl. Grandma came to the school, but only to tell the administrators that they were being silly and wasting her time. Pants or skirt it doesn’t matter, it’s school, I’m fine with it you should be too. Don’t waste my time with stupid stuff.
As it was told to me: grandma was in the hospital and the doctors had said it was only a matter of time, she was awake but in pain. There had been docs, nurses and family in and out of the room for the week she had been there. At about 8 am that morning the family members that were in the room told her they were going to get breakfast. When they came back an hour later she was gone. She found a quiet moment when she was alone. She didn’t want the last memory her loved one had of her to be watching her die. At the end, she left the world the way she’d lived in it, on her terms.
Be kind, don’t suffer fools, laugh, stick together and work hard; those are some of the family lessons I learned from her life. I had one grandma in my life. There were other people I was related to, but there was only one grandma.