Yesterday, we said good-bye to Grandma, or as the world knows her, everybody’s favorite hostess, Mary Dee.
We all thought that Grandma, with her robust spirit and irrepressible stamina might pull through, despite the fragility of her ninety-four-year old body.
We had prayed that Grandma, the woman who eloped as a teenager while being chased on horseback by her gun-toting-cowboy brothers, and came to California to begin a life with her handsome, new husband would survive her illness. Do you remember my post: Today is the youngest you’ll ever be? We thought she would make it.
But God had different plans, and so we all gathered to celebrate her life with a simple church service and an old-fashioned pot-luck, even though her absence felt odd. Because until a few months ago, Grandma was writing her own checks, buying fresh vegetables at the local dollar store and baking in her kitchen.
Because Grandma had an astonishing zest for life. She was famous for her homemade cheesecakes and her tamales. And when she wasn’t in the kitchen, her favorite spot was standing at the dollar-slot machines in a Reno, Nevada casino, while her companion of forty years, Soto, sat faithfully on a nearby stool.
In my Aunt’s eulogy, Grandma was described as being a girly girl. And it was so true. She loved fashion, and the color black. And she always wore heels.
She was faithful about getting her hair done, in fact, she asked for her hairdresser when she was in the hospital. She was known for her red lipstick, the color that many of her granddaughters wore in her honor at her church service. And of course, Grandma loved wearing her long, pink nails.
At the end of her life, Grandma was friends with the saleswomen at her local Macy’s Department Store, where she would be seen squinting at the sales tags and searching for a pretty blouse or pair of costume jewelry earrings.
But as she got older, these hand-picked items were always gifts for others.
On one of my last visits to the hospital, I remember her lying in bed while she repeatedly asked me which floor she was on, even wanted me to write down directions from the elevator. Only later did I learn that she wanted to make sure she could find her way back to bring her nurse a gift.
Later at her Church service, I met people who told me more stories.
There was a beautiful, ebony-skinned woman named Thelma who held my hand and introduced herself as my Grandma’s neighbor. She shook her head while telling me about the home-cooked food and the pretty scarves Grandma had given her. And later I found out that on the morning of Grandma’s church service, Thelma, who did not own a car, had stood at the bus stop in the pouring rain because she said she would “never miss” Grandma’s service.
Then there was a stylish-looking elderly woman who had come by herself and told me that her friendship with Grandma had begun while standing in line at the bank, after Grandma offered to show her how to make her home-made chili.
I saw a man who had brought his thirteen year old son to pay respects to the woman who had opened her home to them for the last several Christmas Eves. Who was he and what was his story? I don’t know.
And I recognized the woman I had seen at the hospital, who only spoke Spanish. She had taken a bus to come sit by Grandma’s bed while she slept, and on this day she brought her family to the service, and they cried when they spoke in halting English about Grandma’s gifts of clothing.
In the end, I was moved by these people who had come to bid farewell to Grandma. And I was reminded that our legacy is mostly evident in these human snapshots that tell a story of our life; the real people that we touch with our words and our generous acts.
Because our good-byes are filled with stories. Here is another one.
Dear Grandma. When I was little, do you remember that you would give me coffee (mostly milk) and toast with a dollop of real butter on those mornings after I spent the night? You would tell me not to tell my mother and we would giggle mischievously. Your world was so feminine. You had doilies on your Queen Anne styled tables and tiny, perfume bottles lined on your dresser that captivated me, a little girl growing up in a house dominated by boys, and baseballs and sturdy, no-nonsense furnishings.
Together, we watched the bubbles float in the air on the Lawrence Welk show, and just like you, I was smitten with Bobby and Sissy, the show’s famous dancers, swirling across the floor to the sound of big-band music. Grandma, I still remember you smiling with delight and calling me to sit next to you on the floor.
Without ever speaking the words Grandma, you taught me about civility and gratitude and having starry-eyed dreams.
You were many things to many people. And you will be terribly missed by all of us.
Although I know in my heart that you’re smiling. And I hope that you’re dancing. Right now.
In fact, take a swirl with Bobby for me…
And I’ll see you tonight in my prayers.
I love you, Grandma