Tuesday, June 05, 2012
She knew loss and perseverance both. She was a child of the Depression. She knew how to stretch a dollar and how saving little by little made a difference. She did not waste. She had aspired to be a teacher but the wealthy relative willing to pay for her education said the only provision would be for nursing or secretarial work. Neither appealed. She valued education and was proud that I wanted to be a teacher. She and my grandfather lived and raised their two boys in a house that by today's standards would be considered uncomfortably tiny by many or fashionably "green" by some. She could not bear talk of WW2 since my grandfather had enlisted in the Navy, leaving her and their young boys at home alone. My grandfather supported the family driving an oil truck. She sent their sons to the University of Chicago by working in a women's clothing store. When my father (who as a rule does NOT reconsider his opinion once it is formed) said he had nothing to contribute toward my own college education she was livid and informed me she'd be having a word with him since she'd worked all those years standing on her feet so he could flunk out by sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan. Two weeks later he told me he had...reconsidered...and discovered some small way to help with my expenses. I was in awe of my grandmother's power over my father. I wished I could have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.
As a child, my grandmother had rheumatic fever, which damaged her physical heart, but it did not diminish her spiritual heart. She defied the doctors by living as long as she did and by refusing to give up ice cream. She was also the one who reassured me as a child and teen that my father did in fact love me saying, "Sweetie, he loves you. He just doesn't know how to show it." She showed me it is possible to survive and hold her head high in spite of the loss of people through estrangement, people she saw week in and week out and yet who refused to be reconciled. She showed it is possible to remain in an intimate friendship when others think it's impossible (she and my mother were dear friends for all of the the nearly two decades after my parents' divorce). She taught me that it is important to respect your elders. To this day, I cannot address people of a certain age by their first name unless they insist I do so. She showed me that faith without works is dead and gave hands and feet to her own brand of belief. When I announced my engagement she and my grandfather sat me down to have a serious talk with me. They loved Mr. Lime but were concerned I was too young. They wanted to make sure I was taking marriage seriously since I had not had a great example from my parents. They shared about their own failings because they wanted me to succeed.
So many times over the years I have wished my grandmother could see my family; see how Diana has grown, meet Calypso and Isaac, give me advice on how to endure some of the trials life has sent my way. So may times I have wished I could sit at her kitchen table in the tiny kitchen and share lunch together, see her smile across the table, help her wash up the dishes afterward and then be folded into a hug and kissed while she strokes my hair (she always said it was a treat for her to brush my hair since she only had sons). I'm so grateful I had her as long as I did, since no one expected her to have a full life expectancy, and I am proud to be her granddaughter. Happy 100th birthday, Mom-mom. I love you.