A Tribute to Grandma—given by her Grandson—on behalf of a loved family.
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” -- Thomas Campbell
Ruby-red lipstick, Rattle of five dice in a Yahtzee game cup, Gold helmets of the Notre Dame football team, Many multi-colored embroidered vests, White sands and clear waters of Sanibel Island, Buckets and bins, bags and jars of sea-shells, A tan, scratchy wool throw blanket, Picnic tables and the thin curl of smoke from mosquito coils, Brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts, Maple oatmeal, Pecan Pancakes, and tiny cereal boxes—split open down the middle, Late local nightly newscasts and a heavy Sunday morning paper, Crosswords and word-search puzzles—all carefully written in. Atlases, maps, and Triple-A travel guides, roads outlined in yellow, Laughter and love; hugs and kisses.
Images and objects, smells and sounds—all touchstones that flash into my mind as I remember my Grandmother.
Grandma was so full of life and love for others, it seemed her body couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. It constantly was spilling out of her. She just couldn’t manage to contain it in her body. She was like a glass filled to a point just above the rim—the slightest bump, any excuse of an encounter—her warm personality would spill out generously, dousing all around with her enthusiasm and vivacity.
Growing up, I was able to spend frequent summer times with them at Airstream rallys. Grandma could always be found participating on some committee, planning out group meals, organizing an entertainment program. Or maybe she was putting on a display of her handiwork or a collection of sea-shells she and Grandpa had collected together. Often she managed to combine several of these activities at once!
During one such rally, she played the part of a pioneer teacher, showing a child how to write. She was up on a high stage in period dress and I a small child in buckskin with a slate chalk-board at her feet. The auditorium spotlight fell on us and in the darkness a narrator gave a lesson of this period of history. I was terrified and instantly forgot how to write, Grandma calmly smiled, waved at the watching crowd and spoke peacefully to me. She had poise and presence.
Later (when I remembered how to write again) came birthday presents and cards richly filled with a few crisp dollar bills. Mom and Dad always made sure I wrote thank-you letters back. Later when we were able to travel out to Florida for the summer to visit her and Grandpa in Fort Meyers, I would discover those letters and pictures taped proudly to the walls in her bedroom. I think Grandma always had a way of getting the better deal out of things.
Grandma seemed to always find a way to connect with people—no matter what walk of life and circumstance they came from. People and their stories always seemed to fascinate her. When she met someone she didn’t know by sight immediately, she would begin to quiz them about where they used to live, what they did, or maybe who they knew. She was almost always able to find a common link to join themselves together. On road-trips pulling their Airsteam trailer in their bright red Lincoln Towncar,--the one with the white seats and top that seemed bigger than the state of Texas—she would have a keen eye out for other Airstreams. When she spotted one we would call out the red numbers on its front. She would look it up in her members book and--more times that not--not only would Grandma know who the owners were, but frequently could tell intimate stories about them!
Grandma came from an American generation in transition. As a child she grew up in a time when letter writing was a rich and valuable means of family communication, when relationships were tended like gardens and community was strong. In her middle-years she could throw parties, make clothes, and support managing her household as her husband moved frequently in his job with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and making sacrifices during the war. In her retirement she was able to gaze upon the modern “world of tomorrow” with open highways, television programming, space exploration and incredible advances in medicine.
William Shakespeare once wrote “Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts.”
Grandma’s hands loved her family and friends. Grandma’s heart loved Grandpa. Children pay very close attention to the relationships of adults around them. They seem to pick up the smallest things. I know Grandma’s heart joined with Grandpa’s because I saw how much he cared for her and she for him. She always had a meal planned or a cool drink for him. She fussed over him constantly. Her eagle eye could spot a smudge of grease or streak of paint on him. When Mom was cleaning out Grandpa’s work-shed, she found a pair of pants hidden that had paint on them—no doubt Grandpa wanted to spare Grandma any undue concern about them, and carefully put them away so she wouldn’t have to attend to them.
Her love and instruction planted in us as children helped shape us and give us the courage and confidence to take on this quickly changing modern-world. And even though as adults we all have different job-titles—I find it a mark of Grandma’s lasting legacy that we all are all--in some form--teachers and healers, caregivers and advice-givers; curious explorers of the people and world around us..
Many years ago while I was in high-school, I wrote a poem for a contest It brings special meaning to me now to share it one last time.
I received another postcard today.
This time it was from Maine.
It had a picture of a seaside cliff
With the surf crashing below and
Green lawn rolling out to the edge.
The odometer is moving again.
Grandma and Grandpa never seem to stop or rest.
They see it all.
I have so many postcards.
There is one of a church in Virginia,
And a virgin white beach in Florida.
Here’s one of a dark forest in Washington state.
I can hear the fire crackle in this one from Nevada.
Her hands are steady even though at night
They curl up stiff from arthritis.
His deep brown skin is as aged
As the tree in this postcard from Michigan.
Their white hair, as full a mane as any lion has,
Is the color of this old school building
On this postcard from Tennessee.
Some people say that they don’t care
That they are avoiding us
And can’t face their old age.
They want them to settle down
In a quiet town like this one in
A picture from Arizona; Grandpa said he
Hated that place.
I know one day their journey will end.
It won’t come with a fanfare of angels
But more like silent sighs,
Like the setting of a falling moon
Leaving only stars to shine
Behind its path.
I won’t be surprised when I get a postcard
Of the train station they will depart from
One dark summer midnight
A glimmer of mischief in their eyes.