Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My grandma

In the beginning of July we were told that if we wanted to see my grandmother, we should come home sooner than later, and our planned trip in August would be too late.  So, we changed our tickets and were back on the East Coast a few days later.  It was such a good trip, and I'm glad we got to see my grandmother one last time.


She was the mother of eleven children, and was a welcoming presence for just about every person she met.  One of the stories told at the funeral was that one of my uncle's friends "came for dinner, and stayed for five years."  (Pretty accurate.)  At holidays, there was always at least one--usually a group--of people who were new to the country or had no one to celebrate holidays with.  My sister said at the wake, "I don't know any other family where when you get ready for a family dinner you say "hmm, I wonder who we we will meet today."


She hated being the center of attention; she'd be mortified if she knew I was putting her on my blog.  One of the reasons I have kept this blog going for four years is because she enjoyed it so much.  She only ever commented once on the blog itself, but would call or dictate an email to my aunts when she particularly liked a blog post.

She was a child of the Great Depression, and everything was used until it couldn't be used any more, and then she would figure out a way to use it for some different purpose (not a surprise if you have 11 children). She loved yard sales, and never passed one without buying toys for grandchildren.  Her entire house was decorated from thrifting and garage sale finds.

If there had been design blogs in the 1960s she would have read them all.  I credit my grandmother with first introducing me to interior design.  I loved--still love--her home and her taste.  She sawed legs off tables without measuring.  She rearranged furniture all the time; you never knew what the living room might look like when you visited.  Art was frequently rotated throughout the house.  The only constant was a quilt that my mother made for her that was displayed in the living room.

She read everything and anything, but loved shelter magazines, cookbooks and inspirational books. (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree there.) She painted watercolors all my life, but never thought they were good enough for display or giving away, and I wrestled more than one out of her hands as she was throwing them out.

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My aunt told a story at Grandma's wake that I thought really encapsulated the essence of my grandmother.  Years back my aunt, an executive at a large company, was given the task of clearing out the office of a coworker who had died.  My aunt was angry that her boss and other male colleagues thought that she, the only female executive in the office, should be the one to do this grunt work.  As she complained about it to my grandmother, Grandma told my aunt that she should clean out her coworker's office without complaint, and let that service be her way of honoring her coworker.

My grandmother had a deep, abiding respect for other people.  "Everyone brings something to the table, even if it isn't what you would like for them to bring," she would say.  She welcomed everyone into her home.  She respected everyone she met.  No one was too small, too lowly, too unimportant.  Everyone was welcome at her table, and she treated the landscaper with the same respect she would have given the President.

She listened to everyone, especially her grandchildren.  She attended every school play and graduation and grandparents day and any other occasion her grandchildren might be having.


She was an amazing person, really.

I named my daughter after her.  I tell my daughter I named her after the best person in the whole world.


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The above doesn't reflect just how much fun she was.  She had a dry wit and love of the absurd.  She wrote snarky letters to nuns.  She cut weird stories out of the newspaper and hung them on a bulletin board in the kitchen.  My aunt came across a bust of a monkey head with light-up red eyes and nostrils and brought it home for her, and my grandmother said "oh, the children will LOVE it."

 
No, really, that monkey bust gives you some idea of just how cool she was, doesn't it?

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On the evening of her death, ten of her eleven children were gathered around her bedside.  All night they sang songs that Grandma loved, and prayed with her.  When Grandma died she was surrounded by her children, surrounded by their love.  The priest who officiated the funeral mass put it pretty well:  "if you're looking for a death, that seems like a pretty good one."

She was love personified, and the giving of so much love came back to her many, many times over.

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In the morning, when it was time to leave for school, Grandma would sing to all the children (eleven of them!) leaving the house.  "So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye, to you, and you, and you and you and you...."

So long, auf wiedersehen.  She is missed.


9 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry for your loss! This is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman.

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  2. Oh, this is making me cry. Your grandmother sounds wonderful. I'm so sorry she's gone. I know what a loss it is. I named my daughter after my grandmother, too. (Well, both of them. I was lucky enough to have two amazing grandmas.) I'm glad you got to see her. I'll never forget leaving my grandma for the last time, knowing it was the last time. Some of the hardest steps I've taken. But grateful for them now. Sending you a hug.

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    1. Princess is also named after two grandmothers! (And Peter is named after my grandfather--that picture above is two generations of the same name.) Thanks for the hug.

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  3. Dear Lisa, I am so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute to your Grandmother - she sounds like she was a terrific woman! Thank you for sharing these stories.

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  4. What a wonderful piece, Lisa. I'm so sorry for your loss. As someone who grew up with two very, uh, "challenging" grandmothers & a mom who doesn't love her roles (either as mom or grandma), I'm envious of the obvious adoration you have for this sweet, unique woman, and the adoration she had for you.

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  5. Your grandmother sounds like just the kind of person anyone would love to have as a friend, kind, compassionate and lots of fun. I am so sorry for your loss and the loss to your whole community .
    Kind Regards
    Cathy

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  6. Awww, what a wonderful, touching tribute to your sweet Grandmother!!

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