We lost our beloved Grandma at age 94 on Christmas Eve. It was a fitting day because she always hosted Christmas Eve at her house and the tradition still continues. Her family will always be together that day for generations to come. And our hearts are full knowing she has been reunited with her Bill and Billy. There are millions of things I loved about my favorite lady, but Grandma liked to keep things simple, so I narrowed them down to 10.
Grandma was famous for her finger point. She could point her finger and take control of any situation. When I was little, my Dad and I stopped by my Grandparents’ house to say hello. When we arrived, it looked like they weren’t home, but we went inside anyway so my Dad could grab a cookie from the jar. Grandma always kept a jar stocked with Servatii’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. When I asked my Dad if I could have one, he replied, “No, these are only for Grandma’s kids, not her Grandkids.” Like magic, Grandma appeared in the kitchen doorway with her finger out, “Billy!” Without missing a beat, he handed me a cookie. She always had her grandkids’ back.
Grandma was a woman of many talents – a tireless community volunteer, class president, valedictorian, an honors student in chemistry and home economics just to name a few. Another talent was her ability to sew. She even made her own wedding dress. With seven kids – five of them boys, hand-me-downs were critical. As the boys’ collared shirts would get frayed, she’d remove the collar, flip it inside out and sew it back on, good as new. She knitted beautiful sweaters and sewed elegant ball gowns with sequins and tulle for our Barbie dolls. When I was older, she taught me how to hem my own pants. One time when my Grandparents and I were out to dinner, she noticed the bartender’s vest was missing a button. We left that night with his vest in hand. She returned it to him the next day with new buttons sewn with extra reinforcement. That’s Grandma for you.
Grandma was Super Mom, but would never admit it. She was a mother of seven and spent 10 years pretty much on her own while Grandpa was commuting to other cities for work. Later in life, when my Dad had five little kids, he wondered how she did it. Then he ran into Grandma at Kroger at 5 a.m. when he was buying diapers. He always talked about that moment and realized that growing up, he never saw his mom sleep. As a parent, he had that much more admiration for what his mom accomplished. Once I became a mom, I too was impressed and let her know about it. Grandma’s response: “It really is a lot of fun having all those kids around. And once they turn 3, they can make sandwiches and help with other things around the house.” My oldest turns 3 soon – the verdict is coming on those sandwiches.
Grandma was fearless – and quick. When I moved back home after college, my Grandparents invited me to stay with them for a while until I found a place of my own. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, filled with laughter and great memories. One of those days, I was downstairs and heard a thud. I panicked thinking one of them had fallen and I raced upstairs. I found my Grandparents running around laughing hysterically. Grandma was chucking shoes at a lizard on the loose in the house. Grandpa was right behind her carrying a laundry basket of more shoes. When they ran out of shoes, Grandma just darted across the hallway and caught the lizard with her bare hands. She was 85 at the time. I’ve seen her pick up spiders, move snakes, and chase off bucks eating her hostas. Nothing could shake Grandma.
Grandma’s childhood heroes were Amelia Earhart and Shirley Temple. Even in her 90s, she held out hope that one day Amelia would be found. “Wouldn’t that be neat?”, reminiscing about how tough Amelia was flying around the world solo. Grandma also loved Shirley Temple – and how she could sing and dance. When I was little, Grandma would perm my hair in her bathroom to give me little Shirley Temple ringlets. My hair – very fine and stick straight – would hardly last a day in those curls, but the memories of singing Shirley Temple songs and learning about tap dancing still come back every time I walk into a salon.
Grandma was always calm in the chaos. And with seven kids, 28 grandkids, and 31 great-grandkids, there was a lot of chaos. All of us were athletes, so add that competitive spirit to the mix and you have many gruesome injuries. One afternoon in a backyard full of kids playing soccer, I took a massive tumble – blood everywhere. The first call my parents made was to my Grandparents to come help corral the kids, clean up blood, and get me to the emergency room. My Grandparents were on their way to a charitable gala, but took a detour to help. Grandma walked right onto the back patio in a ball gown, towels in hand. She – unfazed – helped clean me up and get me in the car to go to Children’s. When it was all said and done, the other kids were fed and put to bed, I had 72 stitches in my head, and Grandma and Grandpa made it to the event without a drop of blood on them as if nothing happened. Just another night for Grandma.
Grandma can solve any problem. I was once hiking a 14er in Colorado when I lost my phone somewhere on the side of a mountain. A guy on the same trail found it and shortly thereafter, Grandma called my phone to check on me. The guy answered, explained he found the phone and was hoping to return it to its owner. Grandma immediately went into interrogation mode, “how do I know you didn’t steal my granddaughter?” After several minutes of panic on his end, she learned his whole life story (turns out he was a Bearcat!) and a day later I had my phone back, thanks to Grandma over 1,000 miles away.
Grandma and Grandpa were my matchmakers. My first official date with my now-husband was orchestrated by my Grandparents. It was at our family Easter brunch and Jonathan and I had assigned seats next to Grandma and Grandpa. Our chaperoned brunch was a success, so we went out to dinner just the two of us later that week. Prior to that dinner, Grandma advised me on some topics to cover. Grandma wanted me to be clear to Jonathan from the very beginning that I planned on having a career, I would NOT be willing to cook him dinner every night, and household chores would be split if we ever got married. If he agreed, she said, he was a keeper. Grandma understood the world was vastly different than the one she was born into in 1927 and wanted her granddaughters to take advantage of that. I didn’t fully comprehend it then, but I had the conversation anyway. Jonathan enthusiastically agreed. And here we are happily married for six years (together 12), thriving in careers we’re passionate about, with two healthy little kids, and split responsibilities at home.
There is nothing like the love of a Grandma. Even with such a large family, Grandma had a way of making each one of us feel special. We got to go on fun outings to the zoo or pool. She had us over for lunch – making the world’s best grilled cheese and perfectly cut hot dogs. She let us ride big wheels in her kitchen and bang on toy drums as loud as we could. She came to school events and sports competitions. When I went away to college, she sent me newspaper clippings and photos in the mail frequently. She’d mark up shoe catalogs for me to ooh and ahh over the highest of heels we’d never wear in a million years. She’d call me up to hear how UCLA played in the game or just to say hi and “check on that handsome husband of yours.” You always knew when you really made her proud, because you’d get the finger with a big “way to go, lady!” Her house was the first stop after we got engaged (in fact, Jonathan even asked them for permission to marry me). She was the first call when we found out we were having a baby. And she was the first call after both of our children were born. We went straight to her home from the hospital so she could meet the baby. She even picked the nickname of our son. I still have that voicemail with her suggestion and I can’t wait to play it for my little boy one day. I’ll truly miss her voice of excitement at my next big life event.
Grandma was the family rock. My uncle once put it best – if she cracks, we all crack. This was so true when my Dad was sick. She was stoic throughout his quick and ugly cancer battle. I talked to her regularly to get her reassurance that it was going to be ok. And the morning my Dad passed away, I drove over to her place with my uncle to share the heart wrenching news with my Grandparents. Right after holding my Dad’s hand as he took his last breath, I had to tell my Grandparents they had lost their son. The idea of death being so final – that I’d never see my Dad again in this lifetime – felt like hurricane force winds crashing into me. But the moment I told my Grandparents, I’ll never forget. Grandma pointed her finger straight at me and said, “You were such a good daughter to my Billy. You gave him a good life.” She didn’t crack. She calmed the storm. Her faith was unwavering. And I knew in that moment we’d get through this. She will always be our rock.